Qatar quits effort to mediate end to Yemen crisis

By the Associated Press | May 13, 2011 | 7:29 AM EDT

Anti-government protestors react during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Taiz, Yemen, Thursday, May 12, 2011. Yemeni police trying to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters in two cities Thursday killed two and wounded at least 47, some by gunfire, according to witnesses. In one of the cities, protesters overran a government building. (AP Photo/Anees Mahyoub)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Qatar has pulled out of an effort to mediate an end to Yemen's political crisis, blaming the country's embattled president Friday for the impasse and potentially leaving his regime even more isolated among his neighbors.

Qatar was among six Gulf nations pushing a deal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 32 years in power in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Opposition leaders had grudgingly accepted the accord, but Saleh balked at signing even as protests swelled in defiance of a deadly crackdown by authorities.

Three months of massive street protests and clashes have left about 150 people dead. Anti-government forces have called for major marches on Friday.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Yemen's powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia — said Thursday it would try to keep the peace pact alive. But the withdrawal of Qatar could pose significant hurdles in a bloc that normally acts on consensus. The other members include Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

A collapse of the Gulf initiative would also leave Saleh increasingly estranged from once-close allies that provide critical aid and trade. The Gulf council, or GCC, is playing a stronger role in regional affairs and is considering expanding beyond the Arabian peninsula to add Morocco and Jordan as members.

A statement by the official Qatar News Agency said the decision to pull out of the peace effort was made "because of procrastination and delay in signing the agreement" and Saleh's "loss of wisdom" in snubbing an opportunity for a speedy end to the unrest.

On Thursday the U.S. State Department offered its support for the deal and urged Yemeni forces to halt attacks on protesters.

"We call on the Yemeni security forces to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from violence and respect the rights of the Yemeni people to freely and peacefully assemble and express their views," spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

"We call on the parties to sign and implement the terms of the (GCC) agreement now to ensure an orderly, peaceful transition of power," Toner said. "This transition must begin immediately."