Arab Gulf states involved in mediating a political crisis in Yemen tightened the screws on the country's embattled leader President Ali Abdullah Saleh this week, announcing that it was their hope that he would step down from power after more than two months of deadly protests.
Speaking on Thursday, the Qatari prime minister, Sheik Hamad ibn Jassim Jaber al Thani, said members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down," according to the official Qatari news agency QNA.
Details of the deal the GGC is hoping for were not immediately clear, but some reports say the plan entails having Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for the last 32 years, hand over power to an interim council consisting of political and tribal leaders.
Over the weekend, the Yemeni opposition suggested Saleh let Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi take over to lead a caretaker government.
The announcement from the GCC comes a couple of days after foreign ministers of the council reportedly agreed over the weekend to contact both the Yemeni government and the opposition "with ideas to overcome the current situation."
President Saleh in turn warmly welcomed the GCC initiative to mediate in the country's political turmoil, affirming in a statement carried on Yemen's official news agency Saba on Wednesday "the necessity of a serious and fruitful dialogue to overcome the current crisis."
It remains to see what his reaction will be to the Qatari prime minister's statement.
Meanwhile, a Yemeni opposition leader told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that any efforts to get Saleh out of office were "naturally welcome."
Some media reports also say the Yemeni government and the opposition have been invited for talks in the Saudi capital of Riyadh but that no date has been made public yet.
Thani's statement, however, could be a good indicator that the Gulf Arab states, which previously have backed Saleh, have decided that it's time for him to go.
Yemeni medics and witnesses say around 125 people have been killed in the country's clampdowns on protesters. Anti-government demonstrators started launching protests across the country in January.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad ibn Jassim Jaber al Thani, right, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah ibn Zayed al Nuhayyan. Credit: Reuters