SANAA // President Ali Abdullah Saleh yesterday rejected a plan for his removal from power, opposition leaders said, as two people were killed in the largest protests so far in Yemen demanding his resignation.
Opposition and clerics offered Mr Saleh a road map on Thursday for a smooth transfer of power by the end of the year.
"He [Saleh] agreed first and then completely rejected the plan," said Mohammed al Sabri, a leading member the Joint Meeting Parties, an opposition coalition. "We do not care about his decision and we are with our people in their demand for the change of the regime."
The plan also called 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.
Additionally, the plan 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.
Mr Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years, declared last month he would not seek re-election after his term ends in 2013 and would not transfer power to his son. Last week he proposed a national unity government, but the opposition rejected the offer, saying it was too late.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets yesterday in several cities including Sanaa, Taiz, Aden and others to demand a change in the regime. The army opened fire on an anti-government rally in the Harf Sufian district of Amran province, about 170km north of Sana'a, Shiite Houthi rebels said.
"During a peaceful protest ... demanding the fall of the regime, an end to corruption and political change, a military site fired rockets at a group of protesters. Two people including a 70-year-old man were killed and another was injured," said Abu Hashim, a rebel spokesperson in a telephone interview.
A security source, however, said that armed men wanted to pass a military checkpoint with their light and heavy arms and when they were stopped, they opened fire, injuring four soldiers, according to the state Saba news agency. The unnamed source denied there were protests.
Mr Abu Hashim refuted the allegations. "This government is lying as usual," he said.
One government source said the toll had risen to four, but that could not be confirmed.
The government agreed to a truce with the rebels in February 2009 to halt a sporadic war that began in 2004. The Houthis complain of political and economic discrimination.
In the capital, Sanaa, thousands of Saleh supporters were overshadowed by tens of thousands of anti-government protesters who prayed at what has been labelled as "change square" in front of Sana'a University. Between prayers, the protesters chanted, "Leave ... the people want the regime to fall … after Mubarak, Ali," referring to Hosni Mubarak, the ousted Egyptian president and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia.
Sheikh Yahia Hussein al Dailami, a prominent imam, urged the protesters to continue their protests.
"You have to join your brothers at the change squares across the country to support those who want to be free … we need change for justice and an end to corruption and oppression," he said during his Friday sermon.
"We are here to demand the overthrow of the corrupt and oppressive regime what has controlled the wealth of the people and abused their rights…..corruption has devoured everything in our life and if this regime leaves, we can build Yemen free from corruption, oppression and bribery."
In Taiz, south of Sanaa, about half a million people took part in Friday's rally, according to Bushra al Maktari, a protest leader. Ms Maktari said that two security officers joined their protest.
In Aden, tens of thousands of mourners attended a funeral in al Mansura and Muallah neighbourhoods for three protesters killed by security forces during last month's violence.
According to local sources, the protesters chanted "the people want the regime of fall" and carried banners that read, "Leave Ali, for the sake of our martyrs."