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Thousands of anti-government protesters held their ground Sunday in the Yemeni capital's Change Square despite the president's acceptance of an Arab proposal to leave office under certain conditions after 32 years in power.
More than two months of protests pressing for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to immediately step down have left him clinging to power and brought down intense international pressure for him to leave office. A regional bloc of Gulf nations has been seeking to broker an end to the crisis, fearing the potential impact of more instability in the fragile country, which is home to al-Qaida's most active branch.
Saleh agreed Saturday to the proposal for him to hand power to his vice president within 30 days of a deal being signed in exchange for immunity from prosecution for him and his sons.
A coalition of seven opposition political parties also agreed to the proposal with several reservations, but Saleh's opponents come from a diverse range of groups and many who were not part of the talks quickly rejected the proposal and said they doubted Saleh's intentions.
Thousands of protesters held onto their camp in Change Square in the capital, Sanaa, where they are ringed by military units that defected to join and protect them. Men in desert camouflage military uniforms mixed with the crowds, pumping their arms into the arm and flashing victory signs.
"The proposals are not acceptable at all and the opposition parties don't represent us," said Khaled al-Ansi, a leader of the youth movement that is one of the main organizers of the street protests.
Al-Ansi said Saleh was "behind everything that is happening and he should be tried together with his sons" for the heavy crackdown on protesters.
More than 130 people have been killed by security forces and Saleh supporters. At least 40 were killed in a single attack on March 18 by rooftop snipers overlooking Change Square.
Days later, a wave of defections by those outraged at the violence picked up pace. Top military commanders, diplomats, ruling party members and even Saleh's own tribe have abandoned him.
Saleh had offered to step down by the end of the year. When that failed to ease the unrest, he took that off the table and insisted he would stay until the end of his term in 2013. Seeking to ease the international pressure on him, he warned the country would slide into chaos and al-Qaida would seize control if he left early.
There is a huge gap in trust between Saleh and the opposition, said Abdul-Malek al-Mekhlafi, a law professor and an opposition leader.
"The opposition is worried that President Saleh might change his mind at any time," he said.
Fueling their suspicions, the proposal Saleh agreed to by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council includes language requiring parliament to accept or reject his resignation.
The legislature is packed with members of his party, leaving him with a potential way out or at least a way to stall for time.
The opposition is worried about what would become of the deal if parliament rejected his resignation, al-Mekhlafi said.
Saleh, a shrewd politician and former military officer, has held power for decades by using his security forces to put down opponents and deftly negotiating with powerful tribes that hold sway in Yemen's remote hinterlands.
He has fended off numerous serious challenges. The country's al-Qaida offshoot has attacked his forces, an armed rebellion has battered the north of the country and a secessionist movement has reappeared in the once-independent south.
At the same time, the country is rapidly running out of water and oil and is the poorest in the Arab world.
The United States has watched the uprising with particular concern because Saleh has been an ally in fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been behind two nearly successful attempts to attack U.S. targets in recent years and has an estimated 300 fighters.
The Gulf mediators' proposal also calls for the opposition to join Saleh in a national unity government within days of signing a deal.
The seven legal opposition parties involved in the talks say that is unacceptable and they want to see Saleh leave office before any negotiations on joining a unity government.
New protests by thousands of people were also held Sunday in the town of Turba in the southern province of Taiz, an opposition hotbed.
One protester died Sunday of wounds from demonstrations last week in the southern port of Aden, which was still partly paralyzed Sunday by campaigns of civil disobedience.
This program aired on April 24, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.
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