The head of a grouping of Gulf Arab nations presented a new proposal Thursday to Yemen's embattled president for resolving the country's crisis, calling on him to hand over power to a successor of his choice and leave within a month, according to a senior government official.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's leader of 32 years, has been clinging to power in the face of two months of massive street protests against his rule.
The proposal was a second attempt to mediate the crisis by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which in its previous effort called for Saleh to step down but did not propose a timetable. But Saleh's opponents on Thursday said the monthlong transition was too long, demanding he step down immediately.
Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, the GCC's secretary general, outlined the proposal to Saleh in a meeting in Sanaa on Thursday. The Yemeni official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the proposals also provided for a national unity government led by the opposition and comprising Saleh's ruling party. Presidential elections would be held within 60 days after the interim president takes office, said the official.
Saleh's spokesman Ahmed al-Sufi said the president was dealing "positively" with the new proposals. He did not elaborate, but the opposition rejected them out of hand, saying they wanted the longtime president to leave immediately and unconditionally.
An opposition statement called on Yemen's "friends and brethren" _ referring to GCC members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait _ to "adopt a clear position on the genocide committed by Saleh's regime against peaceful protesters."
Saleh has over the past two months used violence to try to quell the unrest, with his security forces killing nearly 130 protesters so far. He has also offered concessions, including a pledge not to run again for president or allow his son to succeed him, but to no avail.
The uprising intensified Wednesday with a call by protesters for civil disobedience in four provinces _ Aden, Lahj, Taiz and Ebb.
Already, central government authority had virtually disappeared from the southern city of Aden, the country's second largest city, where popular committees are guarding properties and directing traffic. Aden, once the capital of an independent southern nation, is also a hotbed of an ongoing secessionist movement.
Representatives of Saleh's government and the opposition met separately with GCC officials this week in Abu Dhabi, capital of the Emirates. The talks, however, failed to break new ground because the opposition insisted that Saleh immediately and unconditionally step down.
Also Thursday, tens of thousands were rallying again in Taiz, south of the capital Sanaa, demanding Saleh's ouster and his trial for crimes he allegedly committed during his 32 years in power.
Al-Zayani's visit to Yemen came one day after Saleh struck a defiant note in a speech to women's groups.
"We will remain steadfast like the mountains of Eidan, Nuqum and Zafar," he proclaimed, referring to some of the region's daunting mountain ranges. "We will not be shaken by the wind."
But opposition spokesman Mohammed Sabri said Saleh was stalling.
"He is looking for more guarantees that he is not prosecuted after he steps down," said Sabri.