SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's presidential elections will be held as scheduled toward the end of February, the foreign minister said on Wednesday, countering his own observation a day earlier.
Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, a veteran of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime, told Al-Arabiya television on Tuesday that it would difficult to have presidential elections if the security situation is not resolved.
After a series of meetings with American and U.N diplomats, al-Qirbi backtracked, saying that his government was committed to holding presidential elections on February 21.
It appeared, however, that the subject was not closed.
A top ruling party official told The Associated Press that Saleh met with high-level security officials this week and decided to ask parliament to delay the elections until May 22, which would be a violation of the U.S.-backed agreement the president signed in November. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Yemen has been in turmoil for a year over demands that Saleh resign. In November, he signed the power transfer deal brokered by Yemen's powerful Gulf neighbors, but he remains in office.
The U.S.-backed power transfer deal also granted Saleh immunity from prosecution.
That clause set off new protests when it emerged that it applied to all crimes by all members of Saleh's government during his entire 33-year reign.
Responding to the public outcry, Yemen's vice president, opposition parties and members of Saleh's party agreed to limit the sweeping immunity, said a government official who attended the meeting late Wednesday.
The official said the new arrangement would allow for trying officials except for Saleh on corruption charges. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
The immunity still covers those behind the deadly crackdowns that have killed more than 200 protesters in Yemen's uprising, part of the Arab Spring revolts that have swept through countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The amendment needs to be approved by the Cabinet and the parliament, and Saleh's supporters might try to torpedo it.
Amnesty International earlier called the law "a smack in the face for justice." Navi Pillay, the United Nations' top human rights official, said last week that granting immunity to for those accused of gross human rights violations or war crimes breaks international law.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. regretted that Saleh has not complied with agreements to leave the country and allow an election for a successor.
Saleh agreed under pressure to sign the plan to transfer power to his vice president and hold presidential elections in February. The vice president is the only candidate, and the election would rubber-stamp his takeover.
The agreement did not spell out that Saleh must leave the country, but Clinton's remarks appeared to confirm what Yemeni officials close to Saleh have told the AP – alongside the Gulf-brokered deal, Saleh made a "gentleman's agreement" with the United States to leave his country.
In late December, Saleh said he would leave Yemen to help calm the turmoil in his country, and he made a request for a visa to receive medical treatment in the United States, but officials in his ruling party later announced he would stay in Yemen.