Yemen's Saleh calls for early presidential election

The embattled president, who has held the office for 33 years, told supporters that the election, to be conducted "in a democratic way", was intended to avoid further bloodshed.

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SANAA // Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told thousands of supporters on Friday that he wants an early presidential election to end a political crisis after months of deadly anti-regime protests.

"We call for an early presidential election in a democratic way, in order to avoid bloodshed," Saleh said, a day after officials from his ruling party and the opposition said a Gulf-brokered deal that would see him leave office in 30 days was to be inked on Sunday.

Saleh said his people will remain steadfast against the "coup movement", in reference to nearly four months of protests demanding his departure after 33 years in office.

The statement appears to be a new manoeuvre by the president, who is facing mounting pressure from Gulf neighbours and allies in the United States to fulfil his commitment to step down.

According to a proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh would hand power to the vice president 30 days afters an agreement is signed, and he and his aides would be granted immunity from prosecution by parliament.

A national unity government led by a prime minister from the opposition would be formed, and a presidential election would follow 60 days after his departure.

Saleh has repeatedly avoided committing himself to the Gulf-brokered deal, and the opposition has accused him of putting up hurdles to escape an early exit from office.

As he addressed his supporters on Friday, hundreds of thousands of his opponents gathered in Sanaa's Al-Siteen street reiterating their demand for his immediate departure.

Protesters also gathered in Taez, Yemen's second largest city, calling on Saleh to step down.

In a keynote Middle East policy speech on Thursday, US President Barack Obama said Saleh, a key ally for Washington in the war on Al-Qaeda, "needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power."

The impoverished but strategic Arabian Peninsula country has been gripped by protests since late January calling for Saleh's ouster.

Security forces have mounted a bloody crackdown on the protests, leaving at least 180 people dead, according to a toll compiled from reports by activists and medics.