Image: Demonstration against Saleh
Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
An anti-government protester reacts during a demonstration demanding the resignation of of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Saturday.
By
updated 4/23/2011 5:00:11 PM ET 2011-04-23T21:00:11

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

The protest movement demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immediate departure said Saturday that it also accepted the latest draft of the deal but with reservations.

A day earlier, protesters staged the largest of two months of demonstrations, filling a five-lane boulevard across the capital with a sea of hundreds of thousands of people. A deadly crackdown by government forces and Saleh supporters has killed more than 130 people and prompted key allies to abandon the president and join the protesters.

The opposition movement, fed up with poverty and corruption under Saleh, took inspiration from the toppling of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes powerful Saudi Arabia, has been seeking to broker an end to the crisis in the fragile and impoverished nation on the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula.

Under the latest draft, Yemen's parliament would grant Saleh legal protection from prosecution. The president would submit his resignation to lawmakers within 30 days and hand power to his vice president, who would call for new presidential elections.

Opposition voices reservations
Opposition spokesman Mohammed Kahtan described the Gulf council's initiative as "positive" and said the leaders of the opposition parties have all agreed on it.

Kahtan, however, listed several reservations. He said the opposition rejects the draft proposal's call for the formation of a national unity government within seven days of the signing of a deal and wants to see Saleh step down first.

Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
Yemeni army officers lifted by anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, April 23, 2011. A sea of hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters swelled along a five-lane boulevard reaching across Yemen's capital Friday in the largest of two months of demonstrations, as the government tried to halt military defections by arresting dozens of officers. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

"We would have to swear an oath to Saleh, who has already lost his legitimacy," he explained.

They are also against giving Yemen's parliament — dominated by Saleh's party — the power to approve or reject his resignation, which opens to the door to allowing the president time to stall.

State TV reported that Yemen's foreign minister delivered the government's acceptance to mediators on Saturday.

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met in the Emirati capital Saturday with his Yemeni counterpart, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, and urged him to accept the GCC plan, the official UAE news agency WAM reported.

Protests continued throughout the day and expanded to include a general strike.

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Schools, government offices and private companies shut their doors in response to the Yemeni opposition's call for a strike aimed at putting more pressure Saleh to step down.

Thousands of protesters kept up sit-ins at city squares in at least five provinces, while Saleh accused the opposition of "dragging the country into a civil war" in a televised speech to a military academy.

Saleh has over the past two months used violence to try to quell the unrest. He has also offered concessions, including a pledge not to run again for president when his term is up in 2013 or allow his son to succeed him, but to no avail.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Rebels claim Misrata as more unrest hits Syria

  1. Closed captioning of: Rebels claim Misrata as more unrest hits Syria

    >>> overseas, some major new developments today as we follow the turmoil in the arab world . in libya , rebels claim they now control another key city while in syria government forces again opened fire on protesters. nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel is following both stories tonight from benghazi, libya . richard, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, kate . we'll start in libya . after weeks of fighting, hundreds of dead and injured, witnesses and rebels say that gadhafi 's forces have pulled out from the center of the city of misrata . rebels claim gadhafi 's troops were driven out of misrata , the city liberated, after nato intensified air strikes this week and washington deployed armed predator drones for the first time. misrata is libya 's third largest city, just 120 miles from tripoli. tripoli is now the only major libyan city still fully controlled by gadhafi 's government. but with leaving downtown misrata , a new tactic from the libyan colonel. some opposition leaders worry gadhafi forces will simply slip back in in civilian clothing, making them more difficult to identify, even with predator drones. but even if the games many misrata are real, analysts say the nato mission remains confused and unclear.

    >> i don't think we have made up our own minds as to what we're trying to achieve. are we trying to bring down a gadhafi regime, which is not golf to do, we could do that in 90 days , the tough part is what to do when gadhafi is gone.

    >> reporter: but the conflict in libya is quickly becoming overshadowed by an explosion of violence in syria . strategically, far more important to stability in the middle east . on friday, the syrian government unleashed one of the deadliest crackdowns since the arab yub uprisings began. amateur video shows what happened when syrian security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of demonstrators, reportedly killing around 100. even now, the death toll remains unclear. today, the security forces opened fire again, shooting into crowds of mourners, killing more than a dozen. al jazeera rula amin is one of the few reporters still working in syria .

    >> every day the list of demands by the protesters is getting longer and the goals higher. at the beginning, they were asking for just regular reforms. now you have more people talking about toppling the regime.

    >> reporter: two members of syria 's parliament resigned today in disgust. but so far the government and its security forces appear united, and clearly willing to kill their own citizens to stay in power. and, kate , there has been a new development in yet another country in the region. a senior yemeni official says that yemen's president of 32 years, ali abdullah assad has agreed to step down. that transition would take place in about 30 days . until a transition actually takes place, yemen remains politically very unstable. kate ?

    >> richard engel watching the region for us tonight. thank you.

    >>> a program note , senator john mccain who was in libya this week will be among david gregory 's guests tomorrow on "meet the press."

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