Yemen president becomes third autocrat to be forced out

Yemen's embattled President agreed last night to a proposal by Gulf Arab mediators to step down within 30 days and hand over power to his deputy in exchange for immunity from prosecution. It is a major about-face for the autocratic leader who has ruled for 32 years.

A coalition of seven opposition parties said they accepted the deal, but with reservations. Yet even if these are overcome, the parties do not speak for all of the hundreds of thousands of protesters seeking President Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure, and a deal on those terms may well not end confrontations in the streets. Protesters staged the largest rally in two months of demonstrations on Friday, filling a five-lane boulevard across the capital with a sea of hundreds of thousands of people. The protesters have displayed a stunning defiance in the face of a crackdown that has included sniper attacks and killed more than 130 people.

The uprising and a wave of defections by allies, including several top military commanders, now appear to be pushing Mr Saleh to compromise on his earlier refusal to leave office before his term ends in 2013. For decades, the former military officer has fended off numerous challenges, using security forces to put down opponents. Al-Qa'ida has attacked his forces, an armed rebellion has battered the north, and a secessionist movement has reappeared in the once-independent south. At the same time, the country is rapidly running out of water and oil.

Mr Saleh has, however, been a US ally in fighting al-Qa'ida in the Arabian peninsula, which is based in Yemen's remote mountainous south.