As hundreds of thousands of rival demonstrators gathered for separate rallies in Yemen's capital on Friday, Yemen's longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh said he's ready to leave power but he doesn't trust his opposition.
In a rare appearance before a crowd of supporters outside his presidential palace in Sanaa, the capital, Saleh accused his opponents of being a "small minority" and said they were drug dealers, money launderers and leaders of a rebellion in the country's north.
Across town, many more protesters gathered ahead of the Friday noon prayers in a square near Sanaa University where they have been camped since Feb. 21, to demand Saleh's ouster. The gathering comes a week after loyalists of Saleh killed more than 50 people.
Following the killings, senior military commanders, lawmakers, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and provincial governors announced they were siding with protesters. Yemen's opposition subsequently turned down Saleh's offer to step down by the end of the year, saying they did not trust him, and instead demanded that he leave immediately, according to the Associated Press. They also called for constitutional change that would limit presidential terms.
The Wall Street Journal reports meanwhile that Yemeni negotiations over a transfer of power that would see Saleh resign within days were stuck on details concerning the fate of his relatives who lead the country's elite counterterrorism units.
Quoting sources close to the negotiation, including aides to Saleh, the Journal said Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, a Yemeni general who defected to the side of antigovernment protests, and two leading opposition political leaders were working on a "gentleman's agreement" to allow a transfer of power.
Under the deal, both men would agree to leave their posts and allow a civilian-led transitional authority take the reins of power until elections could be held.
A full deal could be worked out as early as Saturday, though details about a transitional authority and the role of security forces were unclear.
The army and opposition activists, meanwhile, have set up separate checkpoints at entrances to the square near Sanaa University, the epicenter of the revolt against Saleh's three-decade rule, according to Agence France-Presse.
Saleh, who has warned that his split within the armed forces could lead to civil war, on Thursday vowed to defend himself by "all possible means" and urged army officers who defected to return to the fold.
"We are determined to preserve the security, independence and stability of Yemen by all possible means," he told army and police officers at a meeting broadcast on state television late on Thursday.
The president, who has held power for more than three decades, on Friday told his supporters: "We in leadership, we don't want power but we need to hand it over to trustful hands, not to sick, hateful, corrupt, collaborator hands."
He added: "We are ready to leave, but we want to do it properly and at the hands of our people who should choose their leaders."
-- Freya Petersen