Yemen: Leader offers to step down by end of year

Yemen's president offered to step down by the end of the year in a bid to appease mounting demands for his resignation yesterday, but opposition groups showed no sign of easing up on efforts to force him out.

Weeks of protests against the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the impoverished Arabian state have raised alarm in Western capitals, with leaders worried that a country where al-Qa'ida is entrenched may be near collapse. Mr Saleh has been a key ally of Washington and Saudi Arabia in the confrontation against al-Qa'ida, but the killing of more than 50 demonstrators on Friday has accelerated a wave of defections to the opposition by the elite.

Having first tried to fend off calls to quit by saying he would not seek a new term in 2013, Mr Saleh has offered constitutional change and elections to replace parliament and the head of state.

"At this historic moment Yemen needs wisdom to avoid slipping into violence... that would destroy gains and leave the country facing a dangerous fate," Mr Saleh said in a letter passed to opposition groups. The opposition, which had earlier called for massive rallies in the capital Sana'a on Friday, said they were studying the offer.