SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's president said Saturday he will sign a proposal by Gulf Arab mediators for him to step down, but he condemned the deal as a "coup" and warned al-Qaida will take control of the country.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has clung to power despite more than three months of daily protests and defections by military commanders and other allies, has pledged before to sign the deal only to back down at the last minute.
On Saturday, he said, "we accept the initiative to stop bloodshed," and an official statement said he would sign the deal Sunday. It grants him immunity from prosecution if he leaves office within 30 days.
Representatives of Yemen's opposition political parties, who have supported the deal for weeks, signed it on Saturday in the presence of U.S. and European Union ambassadors, said a Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press.
The opposition refused to comment before making an official announcement on Sunday.
The proposal by Gulf Arab nations, first put forward in March, would give Saleh 30 days to step down. A national unity government led by the opposition would be formed within a week and would include representatives of the ruling party. Parliament would grant Saleh legal immunity just before he leaves office and presidential elections would be held a month later.
Seeking to win some support in the West for his continued rule, Saleh has warned several times that without him, al-Qaida would take control of the country.
"To the Americans and Europeans, al-Qaida is coming and it will take control," he said on Saturday, addressing members of the security forces on the anniversary of a 1990 deal he oversaw that united north and south Yemen. "The future will be worse than the present."
The United States, which had supported Saleh with financial aid and military equipment to fight the country's dangerous al-Qaida branch, has backed away from the embattled leader.
A big question hanging over the proposal is whether it will end the street protests by youth movements and others who say the opposition parties taking part in the talks to end the crisis do not represent them.
They object to Saleh being shielded from prosecution and want to see him brought to trial on charges of corruption and ordering the killings of demonstrators.
Saleh's crackdown on protesters has killed more than 150 people.
They also want more sweeping changes to upend Yemen's political scene, said Abdel Hadi al-Azazi, one of the protest organizers in the capital, Sanaa.
"We will keep on escalating our protests to topple the regime," he said. "The initiative doesn't mean anything to us. We can't comment on it because we have nothing to do with the signing or the initiative."
"Transfer of power, for us, doesn't only mean exclusion of the head of the regime but it means toppling the regime and all centers of power and its tools to pave the way to a civil state and parliamentary system based on acceptance of the other and a rejection of extremism."
It also remains to be seen whether Saleh will go through with the signing this time.
Saleh backed off singing the deal at least twice before, seeking to attach conditions including an end to the street protests before he steps down and the return to duty of army officers who defected.
On Saturday, Saleh lashed out at his neighbors in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council who have been trying to persuade him to go. Saleh accused them of funneling cash to the youth protesters holding sit-ins to challenge his rule.
The council consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
In his speech Saturday, the president accused the opposition of "plotting to take over power at the expense of spilling rivers of blood."
He claimed that the uprising against him had killed 154 soldiers and wounded more than 1,300.