More than 100 influential religious clerics and tribal leaders called for the Yemeni president's ouster and elections to choose a new leader, adding their weight to the opposition movement seeking to end nearly 33 years of autocratic rule by Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The president, who has clung to power despite four months of protests, is undergoing treatment in neighboring Saudi Arabia for serious burns and other injuries from a June 3 attack on his palace in the capital, Sanaa. His allies insist he will return to the country within days and resume his duties.
The clerics' petition, obtained Saturday, demands elections within 60 days and says Saleh is unfit to return to his post.
"President Saleh is unable to carry out his responsibilities. He must step down," the statement said.
Among the petitioners is Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, the spiritual leader of the country's fundamentalist Islamic opposition party, Islah, and Yemen's most influential cleric. He has backed the anti-Saleh protesters since early on in the unrest.
Others who have abandoned the Yemeni leader include top military commanders, powerful tribal chiefs and members of Saleh's ruling party. Many defected to the opposition in outrage at the killing of protesters.
Yemen's crisis began when demonstrators inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia took to the streets in early February. The largely peaceful movement gave way to heavy street fighting when tribal militias took up arms in late May.
Emboldened Islamic militants have also seized on the expanding disorder to take control of towns in southern Yemen, adding to fears that the al-Qaida offshoot in the country could end up with even more room to operate freely.