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Yemen president in elections call

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Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh (AP)

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh (AP)

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh (AP)

Yemen's president has called for early presidential elections, ignoring an earlier promise to sign a deal that would end his decades-long rule.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was speaking to a crowd of supporters near his presidential palace, just yards from hundreds of thousands of his opponents gathered in a nearby square chanting anti-government slogans.

Mr Saleh did not specify a date for the elections or mention a proposal mediated by the Gulf Co-operation Council to ensure he steps down in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

"We call for early presidential elections, to stop the bloodshed and to preserve traditions, and in a democratic and smooth manner," he told a crowd of tens of thousands.

There has been three months of street protests in Yemen in which more than 150 protesters have been killed. The United States, which until recently considered Mr Saleh a key ally in fighting al Qaida, has backed away from the leader.

President Barack Obama said on Thursday that "Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power".

Mr Saleh has hesitated from signing the regional deal, initially asking that his party officials sign it instead. Then after another attempt by the mediators to salvage the pact, Mr Saleh refused to sign it, blaming the protesters for continuing to hold their rallies.

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In a change of heart, Mr Saleh on Thursday said he would sign the deal on Sunday. It was not clear if he had discussed the early elections option with his opponents or the regional mediators.

In his speech on Friday he accused the protest movement of "treason". He said: "We will remain steadfast. We have been steadfast for four months in the face of a coup movement, and treason."

The opposition has accused Mr Saleh of stalling. In the square where thousands of protesters have been camped out for weeks, the religious cleric delivering the Friday sermon asked Yemen's Gulf neighbours to withdraw their proposal.


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