Yemen: President 'to step down' to secure peaceful transition

A deal on a peaceful transition of power in Yemen is imminent and will be based on an offer by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down by the end of the year, the Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, said yesterday.

Yemen, which has become a base for a small but resurgent arm of al-Qa'ida, has been in turmoil since January when the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions sparked popular demonstrations to end Mr Saleh's 32-year authoritarian rule.

Mr Saleh, who oversaw the 1990 unification of north and south Yemen and was victorious in a civil war four years later, yesterday told tribes in Sanaa that he would "work to avoid bloodshed using all possible means". He had said on Friday he was ready to relinquish power to "safe hands" after weeks of street demonstrations demanding his departure.

The transition discussions centre on the time frame of a handover, among other issues.

Mr Saleh had earlier responded to mass protests with a violent crackdown and a string of concessions, all rebuffed by opposition parties. The concessions included a transfer of power after a new constitution had been drafted and parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of the year.

The protests turned bloody last Friday when snipers loyal to Mr Saleh fired into an anti-government crowd, killing 52 people. That led to a string of defections, including military commanders such as General Ali Mohsen, as well as ambassadors, provincial governors and tribal leaders, some from his own tribe, that badly eroded Mr Saleh's position.

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