Inspired by the popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt, some 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Yemen in what was being called a “day of rage”.
They rejected the offer made by the president yesterday to step down in 2013, and outlined their demands.
One man said: “We want reform, we want political reforms and promises of honesty. We want stability and we want freedom. We want to apply Islamic law and if the regime is not ready for this it should go.”
There is much to play for in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, and a key ally of Washington against al-Qaeda. It is trying to quell a wave of separatism in the South and firm up peace with Shi-ite rebels in the north.
In Freedom Square in the capital Sanaa, thousands of supporters of the president held a counter-rally, saying he had met the demands of the opposition. There were reports supporters were being bussed in to join the demonstration.
One said: “We are calling on the opposition parties to avoid destruction and killing and to be one united Yemeni people.”
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is 64, has ruled Yemen for 32 years. On Wednesday he promised not to stand again, nor to hand on power to his son but he has backed out of pledges to step aside before.