Yemen's president on Monday delegated his vice president to negotiate with the opposition over a long-standing power transfer deal, apparently stalling again in the face of international pressure on him to step aside.
The president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has been in Saudi Arabia since suffering severe wounds in a June 3 attack on his compound.
On Monday, he authorized Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to negotiate with the opposition and sign a power transfer accord _ but Saleh retained the right to reject the deal. Saleh said the deal as it stands is unfair to his ruling party.
Saleh has several times backed out of signing an accord proposed by Yemen's powerful neighbors.
Mohammed al-Sabri, an opposition spokesman, said Saleh is sidestepping the Gulf initiative, also backed by the U.S.
"Saleh should sign the initiative, and transfer power to his vice president, and not add more complications to the crisis," he said.
Yemen is reeling from months of turmoil, as protesters demand that Saleh step down after 33 years in office. During the unrest, al-Qaida linked militants have taken over parts of southern Yemen.
The power transfer deal, proposed by a Saudi-led group of Arab Gulf nations in April, has Saleh stepping down and handing power to his deputy, who would rule during until presidential and parliamentary elections take place.
A Yemeni official in Saudi Arabia said Saleh backed down again at signing the deal, despite efforts by Saudi and U.S. mediators to alter it.
During a series of meetings with senior officials from Yemen's ruling party, Saleh charged that some articles in the deal are "unfair" and contradict the "spirit of the constitution," the official said.
During the meeting, Saleh refused to hand over all his powers to Hadi, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the meetings with reporters.
Meanwhile, the powerful Republican Guards force, led by Saleh's son and heir apparent Ahmed, has deployed troops and armored vehicles on the streets of the capital of Sanaa, threatening to further inflame a conflict with a prominent anti-Saleh tribe. Residents said that heavy gunfire has shaken the city during the night for several days. The source of gunfire was not known.