Yemen's president on Thursday ordered the formation of a government committee to open a dialogue with protesters who have been staging demonstrations for weeks demanding the president step down, state media reported.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh's directive appeared to mark a significant concession in the standoff with the opposition, as well as an attempt to defuse the demonstrations that have been inspired by the successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
The protesters in Yemen, an impoverished country with a weak central government and an active branch of al-Qaida, are demanding the resignation of the U.S.-backed Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years.
Saleh has refused to resign, but has said he will not run for another term in national elections in 2013.
Yemen's official SABA news agency said Saleh ordered his prime minister to lead the five-member committee that it to "have a constructive and open dialogue with the young brothers, including protesters ... and to listen to their conditions and visions."
There was no immediate response from opposition figures.
SABA also reported that the president and top officials on Thursday discussed Yemen's economy and ways of solving the country's chronic unemployment problem. A lack of jobs in Yemen has been one of the complaints of the protesters.
The anti-government protests have left at least 13 demonstrators dead since the crisis began nearly a month ago.
Earlier Thursday, security officials said one person was killed and two were wounded when a grenade was thrown at demonstrators demanding to secede from northern Yemen.
The attack occurred in the southern town of Lawdar, but it was not clear who was behind it, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media.
Southerners, who joined a unified Yemen in 1990, have started a political movement demanding secession from the north, saying they have been marginalized.