Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has announced fresh conditions for his early exit, after mounting popular pressure calling for his removal was significantly bolstered when, breaking ranks, powerful sections of the Army, joined the protesters.
State television beamed images of Mr. Saleh addressing crowds, where he announced he would stand-down, but only after handing over power to “capable, responsible” hands. Calling for an orderly transition, Mr. Saleh, who has long projected himself as the pillar of stability in a tough political environment, said power could be transferred “peacefully and through constitutional means”. He invited the protesters for a “political dialogue” that could “pave the way for a political transition.”
But analysts say the opposition appears set to seek the President's immediate departure.
On Thursday, opposition groups rejected Mr. Saleh's earlier offer to quit at the year-end, following a fresh presidential election. “No dialogue and no initiatives for this dead regime,” said Mohammed al-Sabry spokesman of the opposition coalition, on Thursday.
Mr. Saleh faced a fresh political challenge on Friday when tens of thousands protesters, after Friday prayers, assembled in capital Sana'a as Change (Taghyir) square, the scene of a bloodbath last Friday, when gunmen climbed rooftop and killed 52 protesters.
Fearing violence again on Friday, volunteers were packing makeshift medical centres around the square with medicines and other equipment, in anticipation of clashes.
In other protests on Friday in the region, security forces killed at least 20 protesters in Daraa, Syria's southern city. Reuters news agency is also reporting heavy gunfire in the city, where anti-government protests are spiralling in recent days. In Bahrain, where sustained protests have led to Saudi Arabia's military intervention, police have reportedly broken protests in the villages of Karzakan, Dair, Sitra and Duraz.
Last week's killings in Sana'a were a turning point which breached the Yemeni military, as it led to defections of many senior officers including Ali Mohsen, commander of the northwest military zone.
Tensions within Yemen's rapidly splintering military spiked on Friday after presidential guards loyal to Mr. Saleh came close to confrontations with the pro-opposition military. Army units backing protesters fired in the air to deter government supporters from disrupting the rally.
General Mohsen has downplayed fears of a military coup in the wake of the vertical split within the military. He pointed out that Arab countries were no longer willing to accept military takeovers, as people now wanted to be governed within the framework of a modern civilian state.
The opposition in Yemen has been calling for a new constitution, dissolution of Parliament. It has also demanded the overhaul of the oppressive state-security apparatus. The General has proposed the establishment of five-man interim presidential council that will remain in charge till elections are held.