Yemen leader proposes drawing up new constitution
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 2:20 PM
SANAA, Yemen -- Yemen's embattled president on Thursday proposed a new constitution guaranteeing the independence of the parliament and judiciary, but thousands of unsatisfied protesters poured into the streets to demand his ouster.
Opposition leaders promptly rejected President Ali Abdullah Saleh's offer and called for mass demonstrations Friday, marking a month since the protests began.
The demonstrators have set up protest camps in the capital and the cities of Aden and Taiz, saying they won't leave until U.S.-backed Saleh resigns.
Saleh, an ally in the Obama's administration's fight against al-Qaida, has been making a series of concessions to try to head off the protests, seen as one of the most serious threats to an Arab government since popular revolutions toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
Saleh told thousands of supporters gathered at a stadium in Sanaa that a new constitution would be drafted by the end of year establishing the separation of legislative and executive powers. The president currently controls all branches of government.
Saleh said he ordered the government to "fulfill the demands of the youth camping in Sanaa, Aden and Taiz and in other cities, but without sit-ins or chaos."
Shortly after Saleh finished his speech, some 4,000 people, mostly students, took to the streets and headed toward the main square in Sanaa, calling for his ouster. Saleh has ruled Yemen for 32 years.
Also in the capital, some 5,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medics from all over the country marched toward the Sanaa central square. Wearing their white robes, they denounced this week's shooting of anti-government protesters by troops at Sanaa University. There were many women among the marchers Thursday.
"What a shame! What a shame! Peaceful demonstrations fired on," they shouted.
Opposition leader Yassin Said Numan said Saleh's reform plan has come too late.
"The president's initiative has been overtaken by events and facts on the ground today," Numan told The Associated Press. "If it had come six months ago, the matter would be totally different."
Nevertheless, he said the opposition parties would study the proposal before sending an official reply back to Saleh.