Yemeni ministers loyal to veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who quit as president last month under a hard-won transition deal, walked out of a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, sources close to Saleh's successor told AFP.
The move came hours after a senior official said Saleh had threatened to pull his supporters out of the consensus cabinet formed with the parliamentary opposition in December as another key part of the transfer of power deal.
All but two ministers of Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party left the meeting as part of "attempts by Saleh to cause the failure of the consensus government," said one source close to President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
Hadi, elected as Saleh's successor last month in a vote in which his was the only name on the ballot paper, is scrambling to persuade his predecessor not to make good on his threat to bring down the government, a top official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Hadi has appointed a committee of leading politicians in a bid "to convince Saleh to abandon his threats," the official said.
If the commission fails to secure a change of heart, "the president will have to form a new government of national unity," the official added.
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But Saleh showed little sign of backing down and telephoned Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa personally and "threatened" his government, a cabinet source said.
The 34-member unity cabinet, appointed in December in accordance with the transition deal, has equal numbers of ministers from the GPC and the parliamentary opposition's Common Forum alliance.
Under the terms of the Gulf-brokered agreement which he signed with the opposition in November, Saleh gave up the Sanaa presidency that he had held since 1978.
But he retains the leadership of the GPC and aides have not ruled out his standing in a contested presidential election due to be held alongside new parliamentary polls in 2014.
Over the past week, the pro-Saleh press has stepped up its criticism of Basindawa's government and in a speech last week the former president accused it of being "weak" and of "not understanding anything about politics."
The Gulf-brokered transition deal brought an end to 10 months of deadly violence between Saleh opponents and loyalist troops, that ended up splitting the security forces and fanning an insurgency in the south and east by militants loyal to Al-Qaeda.
Since taking over as president, Hadi has struggled to grapple with the huge challenges facing the Arab world's poorest nation, which also include a Shiite rebellion in the far north and a growing campaign for secession in the formerly independent south.