|Widespread anti-government protests have swept Yemen, triggering chaos and violence across the country [AFP]
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, has authorised his deputy to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition, apparently agreeing to a proposal by Gulf states to end a months-long political crisis.
Saleh issued a decree on Monday that gives Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, Yemen's vice-president, "the necessary constitutional authority to negotiate" the peaceful handover of power, according to state news agency Saba.
The decree gives Hadi the power to sign on Saleh's behalf the so-called Gulf Initiative, which was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Hadi can "agree on a time-frame ... sign and follow up with the implementation", according to the decree.
Saleh also reportedly authorised Hadi to begin preparations for early presidential elections to be carried out under regional and international supervision.
The GCC deal stipulates that Saleh step down within 30 days and pass power to Hadi, who will then form an opposition-led national government and arrange presidential elections in 60 days.
Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, has been recovering in Saudi Arabia since a June 3 mortar attack on his presidential compound.
Since his departure from Sanaa, Yemen's capital, Saleh had refused to surrender powers to his deputy or sign the GCC plan.
Saleh's party, the General People's Congress, asked last week to delegate some of its prerogatives to Hadi to negotiate with the opposition.
Shortly after the announcement of the decree, the spokesman for Yemen's parliamentary opposition rejected Saleh's move as a mere delay tactic.
"If he was serious he would have signed the initiative himself, or at least given his deputy the authority to sign it immediately," said Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesman for the Common Forum, a coalition of six political parties that signed the GCC initiative in April.
Since his departure three months ago, Saleh has refused to hand over power to his deputy or sign the Gulf Initiative. His refusal had angered the plan's Gulf sponsors who, along with many in the international community, fear that a collapse of political order in Yemen could pave the way for groups linked to al-Qaeda to overrun the country.
The GCC plan, proposed last spring, calls on Saleh to step down as president of Yemen and hand over all constitutional authorities to the vice president. In exchange, Saleh would receive amnesty from prosecution for himself and his family.
In recent weeks, the United Nations intervened to break the political deadlock and proposed a "road map" for implementing the Gulf initiative, but its efforts failed.
Widespread anti-government protests have swept Yemen since January, triggering rampant chaos and violence throughout the country. In the southern provinces, fighters linked to al-Qaeda have seized control of three towns.
Fighting raged on Monday for the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar, where government troops have been trying to dislodge insurgents who have held the area for nearly four months, residents and a security official told the AFP news agency.
Also Monday, armed men have killed Lieutenant Colonel Ali Ahmed Abd Rabbo, a senior Yemeni intelligence officer in the main city of Aden, the latest in a spate of assassinations to hit the south, according to a security official.
In recent days, tensions have escalated in Sanaa where government troops fortified their positions while soldiers, loyal to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, also deployed in areas of the city they now
Al-Ahmar, the most prominent general to defect in support of the protesters, has accused Saleh and his loyalists of stoking all out war in Yemen.
"Without a doubt, Saleh and the remaining elements of the regime want to drag us into a war in a desperate attempt to cling to power," he said in an interview published Monday in the Al-Khaleej daily in the United Arab Emirates.
The rampant chaos and violence that has plagued Yemen in recent months has taken a dramatic toll on the civilian population. The UN warned in July of a looming humanitarian disaster if the violence is not stopped and the political deadlock is not resolved.