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Neighbours urge Yemen leader to go

A regional bloc of oil-rich Arab nations along the Gulf, including powerful Saudi Arabia, has called on Yemen's president to step down as part of a deal with the protest movement demanding for his ousting after 32 years.

Keeping up the pressure, tens of thousands of protesters complaining of poverty and corruption marched in the capital, Sanaa, on Sunday, a day after renewed clashes between demonstrators and security forces there.

Witnesses said police fired a barrage of tear gas late on Saturday and that many demonstrators suffered breathing problems.

The statement, by foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council meeting in the Saudi capital, called on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to transfer his powers to his vice president in return for promises that neither he nor his family would be prosecuted for any crimes committed under his leadership.

That falls short of protesters' demands, which include seeing Mr Saleh face justice. And Mr Saleh himself has so far refused to immediately step down, saying he wants to first be certain the country is in "safe hands," suggesting the already fragile and impoverished country could fall into serious tumult without him.

"The transfer of power ought to be in an easy and peaceful manner that would avoid sliding into chaos and violence, and as part of a national consensus," said a final statement from the Gulf council.

The embattled president, once a key US ally in the war against the al Qaida terror network, has tried to cling to power despite two months of near-daily protests calling for his resignation.

Last week, he rejected an earlier mediation offer by the Gulf Co-operation Council, saying the group was meddling in Yemen's affairs. The council had invited Mr Saleh and Yemen's opposition groups to Saudi Arabia for talks on its proposal, similar to the one it endorsed yesterday.

A diplomat at the Riyadh meeting said the bloc repeated an offer to mediate between Mr Saleh and his opponents. He requested anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

"All parties must commit to ending all forms of revenge, pursuit and prosecution through guarantees to that effect," the statement said. The statement also called for the formation of a national unity government headed by the opposition to steer the country through a transitional period.

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