SANAA // President Ali Abdullah Saleh will respond "positively" to an opposition plan for him to step down from office by the end of the year, a government website said yesterday.
The website of the ministry of defence provided no further details, including any indication of when Mr Saleh would spell out his plans publicly.
However, an unnanmed senior aide to the Yemeni president was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying, "The details are being discussed by the two sides right now, and we'll announce a final position at a later time."
As almost daily protests against Mr Saleh's rule continued, the coalition of opposition parties, together with some tribal and religious leaders, presented him with a five-point plan this week for relinquishing the presidency, which he has held since the establishment of the Republic of Yemen in 1990. He led what was then North Yemen between 1978 and 1990.
Mohammed al Sabri, an opposition spokesman, said: "We have provided Saleh a roadmap for his departure through the committee of clerics."
In addition to a transfer of power, the roadmap calls for the prosecution of police and members of the security forces responsible for the deaths and injuries of protesters, as well as compensation for those wounded and the families of those killed. At least 24 people have died in three weeks of protests.
The plan also calls for amending the country's constitution, rewriting election laws to ensure fair representation in parliament, removing Mr Saleh's relatives from leadership positions in the army and security forces, and guaranteeing the right to peaceful protest.
Protest leaders were sceptical of the latest government announcement and reiterated their intention to keep marching until the president leaves office.
One, Walid al Amari, said: "We strongly reject any dialogue with or initiative by the regime. We warn of hijacking our revolution. This is the youth revolution and has nothing to do with political parties. Our demand is clear, and it is the overthrowing of the regime now.".
Analysts also were dubious about conciliatory messages coming from the government.
Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Centre in Doha told Reuters: "We shouldn't read too much into a so-called positive response. The strategy now is to stall and hold on as long as possible and hope protesters lose steam. I don't think we should be under the illusion Saleh will become a democrat overnight."
In recent weeks, tens of thousands of protesters have camped out in central squares, from Sanaa to Aden. Protesters say they are frustrated with widespread corruption and soaring unemployment in a country where 40 per cent of the 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger.
Mr Saleh, under pressure from widening anti-government protests, declared last month that he would not seek re-election after his term ends in 2013. He also promised that he would not transfer power to his son, Ahmed, who heads the Republican Guards, an army unit.
Earlier this week, he proposed a national unity government, but the opposition rejected the offer, saying it was too late.