Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to step down within weeks in return for immunity from prosecution.
Saleh, who has been in power for nearly 33 years, would be the third long-term Arab leader toppled this year by street protests after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Following proposals by Gulf Arab states for a transfer of power he will resign within 30 days, with a presidential vote to be held within two months.
Yemen’s Deputy Information Minister, Abdoh al-Janady, said: “The president and the [ruling] GPC party agree with this initiative with all its items, and this will be in accordance with the constitution of the Republic of Yemen.”
Protesters, who have taken to the streets in their tens of thousands for months, said they would not stop street demonstrations until Saleh leaves office once and for all.
After years of backing Saleh – on the basis that he was a counter to al Qaeda in Yemen – Washington welcomed the move.
“We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so that the Yemeni people can soon realise the security, unity and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
Yemen, with 23 million people, is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, and demonstrators accuse Saleh of corruption and mismanagement during his decades in power.