The president of Yemen, facing weeks of mounting protests, is offering to step down.
In a speech Friday in Sana’a, the capital, Ali Abdullah Saleh told tens of thousands of supporters that he is prepared to hand over power to what he called “safe hands.”
“We don’t want power,” the president said in a rare public appearance. But he added that he is not willing to cede control of the government to, in his words, “sick, resentful or corrupt” people.
As Mr. Saleh spoke, an even larger crowd of anti-government protesters across the city staged what it called a “Day of Departure” rally, demanding the president’s immediate resignation.
On Thursday, Mr. Saleh discussed a possible solution to Yemen’s deepening political crisis with the country’s top military officer, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who earlier in the week defected to the opposition.
In Washington, a White House spokesman refused to say whether the United States believes Mr. Saleh should resign, only calling on the Yemeni government to avoid the use of force against demonstrators.
The United States and several other Western nations have expressed concern that the current unrest in Yemen might give al-Qaida militants who operate in the country an opportunity to stir up trouble in the region. President Saleh is a long-time U.S. ally in the battle against al-Qaida.
Officials familiar with the negotiations between Mr. Saleh and General Mohsen said the talks focused on a civilian-led transitional council that would run the country until new parliamentary elections are held.
Opponents of President Saleh, who has been in power for more than three decades, have been pressing ahead with demonstrations despite a newly-imposed state of emergency that gives security forces sweeping arrest powers.