SANAA, (AFP) — Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told a mass rally of supporters on Friday that he would resist calls to quit, describing as “outlaws” tens of thousands of protesters gathered a short distance away.
“I can assure you that I will resist,” Saleh told the crowd in Sanaa’s Sabbine Square after the main weekly Muslim prayers.
His defiant remarks came a day after the opposition urged Gulf Arab neighbours to pressure him to accept a transition that seeks to end three months of violence in the poorest Arab state.
He hit out at the protesters who have been demanding that he step down immediately and said he would “strongly defend the constitution.” His current term of office ends in 2013.
Protests demanding his departure has led to the deaths of 150 people since late January and efforts of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to broker a peaceful transition in Yemen remain stalled.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon deplored the failure to agree to the plan.
“It is unfortunate and frustrating that all these agreements which were presented by the GCC and others in the international community have not been fully accepted and agreed and implemented,” Ban said at a conference in Sofia.
“I will continue to press this process so that the people of Yemen could also be able to enjoy genuine freedom, so that they can engage in social and economic development for their own prosperity. That is our goal,” he added.
Saleh’s rivals gathered for what they called the “Friday for the loyalty of the people in the south,” while regime loyalists marked “Friday for security and stability” in a competing show of strength.
At the Place of Change, the epicentre of the protests against Saleh, large crowds demanded his immediate exit and that he be brought to trial. There were no immediate reports of clashes between the two demonstrations.
“The people want to try the executioner,” the crowds chanted.
A similar rally calling for Saleh’s departure was held in Taez, the second largest city of Yemen, located 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Sanaa, witnesses said.
“Do not leave the places of protest until the fall of the tyrant,” a religious leader told protesters while another imam addressing supporters at Saleh’s rally accused the opposition of causing “chaos” in the country.
The GCC has said it was awaiting a “signal” from Saleh to revive efforts to end the political deadlock in Yemen, which faces a growing threat from Al-Qaeda, a sporadic rebellion by Zaidi Shiites in the north, and a separatist movement in the south.
The country’s main opposition Common Forum Thursday asked the Gulf Arab states to pressure Saleh to accept the transition plan.
“We call on Gulf Cooperation Council states to put pressure on the president to take all necessary measures to force him to sign the agreement,” said Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman of the Common Forum, an alliance of parliamentary opposition groups.
Saleh has insisted that any transition will be in line with the constitution even though his ruling party had accepted a GCC plan that would see Saleh step down at the end of a month from signing a deal.
The plan proposes the formation of a government of national unity, Saleh transferring power to his vice president and an end to the deadly protests rocking the impoverished Arabian peninsula nation since late January.
Last week, GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani travelled to Sanaa to invite members of the government and the opposition to sign the transition plan in Riyadh and to obtain the president’s signature.
However, Zayani left empty-handed after Saleh, in power for 32 years, refused to sign.
Saleh has been a close US ally in Washington’s fight against Al-Qaeda. Slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s ancestral home is in Yemen and the US has expressed fears that Yemen could see a resurgence of the Qaeda activity.