In Yemen, the chum’s in the water, and the sharks are circling

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It’s been a topsy-turvy day in Sana’a. First, a Yemeni official said President Ali Abdallah Saleh had ‘initially accepted” a 5-point plan proposed by the opposition parties — which included the demand that he step down by the end of the year. Then the official called my colleague Oliver Holmes and said the plan’s provisions had been misrepresented in the media. This suggests the regime is fudging the deadline for Saleh’s departure.

Clarity is promised on Thursday, but given the regime’s record on this, nobody should hold their breath.

Whatever the details of the deal with the opposition, the fact that Saleh met with them at all is a sign of weakness — one that his rivals will want to capitalize. Tribal leaders and Islamists have joined the chorus calling for his departure, no doubt hoping to replace him.

But if Saleh is politically wounded, the opposition parties won’t come out of this looking good to the young protesters who have been at the vanguard of the anti-regime movement. They want the president gone — not nine months from now, not three months from now, but right now. Leaders of the protests have told Oliver they will endorse no deal. There’s widespread scorn at the opportunism of opposition politicians, who first said they stood firm with the protesters but then turned around and began parleying with Saleh.

This may return to haunt them when elections come… Whenever that may be.