x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

President Ali Abdullah Saleh offers talks to Yemen opposition

Offer by president comes as protests demanding that he step down continued for the 11th straight day, with 3,000 university students demonstrating in Sana'a.

SANA'A // Yemen's embattled president has offered to oversee a dialogue between his ruling party and the opposition to defuse the ongoing standoff with protesters demanding his departure.

The offer by President Ali Abdullah Saleh came as protests demanding that he step down continued for the 11th straight day, with 3,000 university students demonstrating in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital.

The protests pose the most serious challenge to Mr Saleh's rule to date.

He has already made a series of concessions, pledging that his son would not succeed him and that he would not seek another term in office. On Sunday, he repeated his offer for negotiations.

Mr Saleh, in office for more than 30 years, told a news conference: "Dialogue is the best means, not sabotage or cutting off roads. I am ready to sit on the negotiating table and meet their demands if they are legitimate." However, he warned against "infiltrators" seeking to divide Yemenis and sabotage their country.

Mr Saleh's rule continues to show signs of resilience in the face of the sustained protests, that have seen security forces and regime supporters battling demonstrators, mostly university students.

The Yemeni regime, however, is not doing as well in the south of the country, where resentment of Mr Saleh's rule is far more entrenched and a secessionist movement is steadily gaining strength.

There have been deadly clashes in the south between protesters and security forces using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. South Yemen used to be an independent nation, but became united with the north in 1990. An attempt to secede by the south in 1994 was brutally crushed by Mr Saleh's army and allied tribesmen.

A decision by the country's major tribes to take sides in the standoff between Mr Saleh and his critics could decide the president's fate.

On Saturday, riot police fired on marchers in Sana'a, killing one and wounding five. A total of seven people have been killed since the unrest began.

The protesters seek to oust Mr Saleh, who is seen as an important US ally in the fight against al Qa'eda They have been inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Marching students on Sunday chanted and carried signs reading "Get out Ali for the sake of future generations." Riot police watched the march but did not intervene.

Past protests were often attacked by government supporters, degenerating into riots.