Yemenâ€™s opposition accused embattled President Ali Abdullah Salehâ€™s regime of â€œmassacringâ€ peaceful protesters in a bid to derail a Gulf-led transition plan.
A day after 14 protesters were killed across Yemen, the Joint Forum on Thursday condemned what it termed "a savage massacre committed by the authorities and the militia of the ruling family against peaceful demonstrators."
The US embassy in Sana’a said the upsurge in violence on the eve of a power transfer deal was "especially disturbing," and urged all sides to act with restraint, according to Agence-France Presse.
At the same time, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said he was concerned by the deadly violence, reiterating a call on authorities to protect civilians and welcoming efforts toward a peaceful transition, his spokesman said.
Mr. Ban appealed "to all concerned in Yemen to exercise utmost restraint and desist from provocative acts."
He emphasized, "Broadly inclusive political dialogue and mutual understanding are critically important for overcoming the current crisis and preserving the country’s unity and integrity."
Sana’a was the scene of the deadliest violence on Wednesday as troops opened fire to break up protests, killing 14 people and wounding more than 130, medical officials said. Another person was killed in southern Yemen.
Some protesters said they were attacked with daggers, which are traditionally worn in Yemen, while regime officials said "tens of supporters of the government" were also wounded.
"This massacre shows that the regime is determined to continue with the bloodshed and defeat the agreement" initiated by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said the Forum, a coalition of opposition parties.
The Forum warned that it would be difficult for them to go ahead with the planned signing of the transition agreement in Riyadh in coming days unless the crackdown was ended.
GCC foreign ministers aim to finalize the transition plan at a meeting in Riyadh on Sunday.
On Thursday, Mr. Saleh appeared to raise a potential problem when he told Russia’s Arabic language Russia Today channel that he objected to the presence of Qatari representatives.
"We will have reservations about signing if representatives of Qatar are present among the Gulf foreign ministers," Mr. Saleh said, according to Reuters. "(Qatar) is involved in a conspiracy not just against Yemen but against all Arab countries."
He also accused Qatar, a gas-rich Gulf state, of funding the opposition in Yemen.
The plan by the GCC proposes the formation of a government of national unity, Mr. Saleh transferring power to his vice president and an end to the deadly protests rocking the impoverished country since late January.
The president would submit his resignation to parliament within 30 days, to be followed two months later by a presidential election.
However, President Saleh, 65, who has been in power for 32 years, has publicly insisted on sticking to the constitution in any transfer of power, even though his ruling General People’s Congress party has said it accepts the GCC plan.
Washington and neighboring oil producer Saudi Arabia want the standoff resolved to avert a descent into more bloodshed in the Arabian Peninsula state that would offer more room for a Yemen-based Al Qaeda wing to operate.
Whoever leads Yemen’s transitional government will not only struggle to quash an aggressive Al Qaeda branch, which has tried to hit US and Saudi targets, but also inherit simmering rebellions in the north and south of the country.
Around 142 protesters have been killed as unrest has swept Yemen, where some 40 percent of its 24 million people live on $2 a day or less, and a third face chronic hunger.
The Interior Ministry said on Thursday that more than 21 policemen had died and 1,000 had been wounded since February 3.