SANAA // Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said yesterday he was committed to the transfer of power through elections but he made no promise to step down as protesters have demanded for months.
In a speech on the eve of the 49th anniversary of the revolution that saw Yemen declared a republic, Mr Saleh said: "You who are running after power, let us head together toward the ballot boxes. We are committed to implementing the Gulf initiative as it is and signed by Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi".
"I would like to add to the Gulf initiative, that the elections will be comprehensive, presidential and parliamentary and local elections if an understandings is reached," he said.
Mr Saleh has backed away three times from signing the Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal that calls for him to transfer power to Mr Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution for him and his family. The deal calls for a presidential vote after Mr Saleh steps down and formation of a unity government led by the opposition.
Mr Saleh returned to Yemen on Friday after nearly four months in Saudi Arabia where he received medical treatment for injuries sustained in a bomb attack at his presidential compound.
Mr Saleh, who appeared wearing traditional Yemeni clothes, lashed out at his rivals and accused them of seeking power through violence.
"The crisis is grave and great and requires that all wise politicians to review their stands and learn from the lessons and of what happened in the past months," he said.
Hooria Mashhoor, spokesman of the National Council for the Forces of Peaceful Revolution, an umbrella opposition group established on August 17, described Mr Saleh's speech as "disappointing".
"We were expecting a historical speech in which he says he would sign the Gulf initiative himself and step down," Ms Mashhoor said.
"He is just trying to buy more time. If he is serious, he could immediately sign the deal himself to avert more bloodshed and violence ... There will be no choice for the youths but to escalate their protest to bring his regime down," she added.
Protesters watching Mr Saleh's televised speech in tents in Sanaa's central Change Square were also disappointed.
"We're so used to this there's nothing new in the speech. It's the same story, the same politics. He talks to us as if we're children," Saeed, 30, told the Reuters news agency. "He's just talking and talking about this initiative and we haven't seen any action."
The speech came amid escalating violence in Sanaa where about 150 people have been killed since September 18. Eighteen protesters were wounded yesterday as government troops opened fire on tens of thousands demanding the prosecution of Mr Saleh and his relatives. Medics said three protesters were seriously wounded.
"We will go on with protests till we bring this dictator down. We are not afraid of his weapons. We will bring him to justice," said Walid Al Najar, a protester.
For the first time since six days of battles between opposition and loyalist forces erupted in Sanaa, the clashes spread outside the capital yesterday. Two opposition tribal fighters were killed in the mountainous outskirts of Sanaa when the army shelled an area where the two sides had been clashing.
Also yesterday The UN Security Council urged Yemen to allow more access to humanitarian aid. Doctors treating protesters have complained they are running low on medicine and the International Committee of the Red Cross says its workers have been threatened and assaulted.
* With additional reporting by Bloomberg News, the Associated Press and Reuters