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Crowds mass in Yemen to demand Saleh's ouster

Last Chance Friday sees tens of thousands take to streets renewing calls for Saleh to quit immediately, GCC initiative may prove problematic for granting Saleh safe exit

AFP , Friday 22 Apr 2011
Yemen
Anti-government protestors hold up a defaced poster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration demanding his resignation in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, (AP).
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Massive crowds took to the streets of Yemen's capital on Friday calling for the immediate ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose loyalists staged a rival demonstration nearby, an AFP reporter said.

Protesters swarmed into the centre of Sanaa on the weekly Muslim day of prayers, which for weeks has become the occasion for rival political rallies.

While anti-Saleh protesters rallied on what they have named "The Last Chance Friday," his loyalists gathered not far away for a "Reconciliation Friday."

Army and police were deployed in force to prevent clashes between the two sides, with several tens of thousands gathered at squares a few kilometres (miles) apart, as on previous Fridays.

Saleh's regime and parliamentary opposition groups are still mulling a Gulf plan that urges Saleh to step down 30 days after the formation of a unity government, but protesters on the street openly rejected it.

"Neighbouring countries; no negotiations, no dialogue," read posters carried by anti-regime demonstrators, apparently referring to the Gulf plan under which Saleh would transfer his powers to his deputy, Yemen's Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

According to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, the president would submit his resignation to parliament within 30 days, with a presidential vote to be held within two months.

"The assailant must be brought to justice," some of the protesters' banners read.

One of the motors of the protests, the "Peaceful Revolt Youth", issued a statement rejecting the GCC initiative, saying "it does not include Saleh's immediate ouster," their main demand, and "provides safeguards to him, his family and aides who are all killers."

In the statement, the group also called for a general strike on Saturday across the country.

Saleh has since January faced anti-regime protests calling for his ouster in which more than 130 people have been killed in clashes with security forces and rival demonstrators.

An emailed statement from the Yemeni embassy in Washington said on Thursday that GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani had presented the group's latest proposal to Saleh and to the opposition, and that the ruling party was expected to respond within 24 hours.

Foreign ministers of Yemen's oil-rich Arab Gulf neighbours held talks on Tuesday with envoys of Saleh's regime as part of efforts to hammer out a deal under which the veteran president, who has been in power since 1978, would step down.

The meeting came two days after talks in Riyadh between the foreign ministers and representatives of Yemen's parliamentary opposition, who are adamant Saleh should go without delay.

But a defiant Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years, said on Wednesday he would "resist" calls to resign and abide by the constitution in any transfer of power, the official Saba news agency reported.

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