Yemen's president Saleh to step down

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Yemen's president has told parliament he will not seek another term in office or hand power to his son - an apparent reaction to protests in his own country inspired by Tunisia's revolt and the turmoil in Egypt.

The US-allied Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for nearly 32 years, spoke to lawmakers in both houses of the parliament.

Mr Saleh said: "I won't seek to extend my presidency for another term or have my son inherit it."

Activists and opposition supporters have staged several protests in Sanaa, boldly asking for Mr Saleh's removal and attacking reports that he planned to install his son in power. The opposition has called for mass anti-Saleh rallies for Thursday in all provinces.

Mr Saleh had earlier tried to defuse simmering tensions in Yemen by raising salaries for the army and by denying opponents' claims he planned to install his son as his successor.

But that has not stopped critics from taking to the streets of the capital, Sanaa. In January, tens of thousands gathered in days of protests calling for Mr Saleh to step down - a red line that few dissenters had previously dared to cross here.

His current term in office expires in 2013 but proposed amendments to the constitution could have let him remain in power for two additional terms of 10 years.

After the Tunisian revolt, which forced that country's president to flee into exile, and the mass protests in Egypt calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, Mr Saleh ordered income taxes slashed in half and instructed his government to control prices. He deployed anti-riot police and soldiers to several key areas in Sanaa and its surroundings to prevent riots.

But the street protests, led by opposition members and youth activists, continued, adding to the threats to Yemen's stability.

In the parliament today, Mr Saleh called on the opposition to meet for dialogue on political reforms and their demands.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri rejected the call for dialogue and expressed doubts about Mr Saleh's pledge not to seek re-election. Mr al-Sabri said Mr Saleh made a similar promise in 2006, but failed to fulfill it, ran again and was re-elected..

"The calls for dialogue are not serious and are merely meant to be tranquillisers," Mr al-Sabri said. He added that the opposition parties would meet today to prepare an official response to the announcement.

Yemen is the Arab world's most impoverished nation and has become a haven for al Qaida militants. Mr Saleh's government is riddled with corruption, has little control outside the capital, and its main source of income - oil - could run dry in a decade.

Nearly half of Yemen's population lives below the poverty line and does not have access to proper sanitation. Less than a 10th of the roads are paved. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict, flooding the cities. The country is enduring a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.