SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's president condemned a proposal by Gulf Arab mediators for him to step down and warned Saturday that al-Qaida would take over the country if he heeded protesters' demands to leave the office he has held for 32 years.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has clung to power despite more than three months of daily protests and defections by military commanders and other allies, said the proposal for ending the crisis amounted to "a coup." At the same time, he signaled he would go ahead with plans to sign it on Sunday, saying "we accept the initiative to stop bloodshed."
The mixed signals follow two earlier pledges by the embattled president to sign the deal. In both cases, he balked at the last minute, leading to accusations by the opposition that he was stalling for time. And one of the nations involved in the mediation effort, Qatar, pulled out in protest and blamed the president for the impasse.
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.
Saleh also lashed out at his neighbors in the Arabian peninsula who have been trying to persuade him to step down as part of a negotiated deal with the opposition. Saleh accused them of funneling cash to the youth protesters holding sit-ins to challenge his rule.
The mediation proposal put forward by a six-nation regional bloc called the Gulf Cooperation Council would give Saleh immunity from prosecution if he steps down within 30 days of signing the deal. It also calls for a national unity government led by the opposition and including Saleh's ruling party. Presidential elections would be held within 60 days of an interim president taking office.
An official statement said Saleh would sign the deal on Sunday.
A spokesman for Yemen's handful of opposition political parties, Mohammed al-Sabri, said the opposition would sign the deal Saturday. The head of the Gulf council traveled to Yemen Saturday to oversee the signing. The bloc is made up of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
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.Comment on this story
The deal is hard for many of Saleh's opponents to swallow and it is unclear if Saleh's signature on it would be enough to end the massive protests in the streets. Some leaders of the youth movements organizing protests around the country have said the opposition parties taking part in the talks 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.
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.