Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has signed a Gulf initiative to transfer power to a deputy, a move designed to end months of swelling protests against his 33-year rule.
Saleh signed the agreement, crafted by the Gulf Cooperation Council, during a ceremony in Saudi Arabia Wednesday.
Under the plan, Saleh is handing power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is to begin the process of forming a national unity government. The plan also calls for an early presidential election.
After signing the document, Saleh said his government welcomes the partnership with what he called “brothers in the opposition” to rebuild and reconstruct Yemen.
On three previous occasions, Saleh indicated a willingness to sign the plan. However, each time he backed away at the last minute.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Saleh told him he planned to travel to New York for medical treatment after signing the deal.
Earlier Wednesday, protests continued in Yemen. Demonstrators voiced their opposition to a provision in the GCC plan that gives Saleh immunity from prosecution.
Yemeni opposition activists have been holding mass protests since January demanding an immediate end to Saleh’s autocratic rule.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more wounded during a government crackdown on the protests and fighting between pro-Saleh troops and opposition militiamen.
Witnesses say fighting erupted again Wednesday in a northern district of Sana’a between pro-Saleh troops and forces loyal to opposition tribal chief Sadeq al-Ahmar.
Al-Qaida-linked militants have seized control of several parts of southern Yemen as the government has struggled to contain unrest in other regions.