President Ali Abdullah Saleh in a televised speech on Saturday where he said he is ready to step down within days. Image Credit: AFP

Sana'a: Yemen's long-serving president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday declared that he would cede power in the coming days, even as thousands of his opponents are barricaded in the Yemen cities demanding his immediate resignation.

"I am rejecting power and I will give it up in the coming days," Saleh told members of Parliament and the Shura Council, in the first indication that the beleaguered leader will quit after 33 years.

"When I came back from Riyadh, I said I didn't come to take revenge or hold a grudge against anyone. I rather came with an olive branch to make peace with the Yemeni people."

"I would like to tell my brothers in the Parliament and Shura Council that we are not power seekers and I don't want power. I have tried to get rid of power three years ago and I was forced to stay," referring to the presidential election in 2006. Saleh labelled his rivals as deceitful, calling for Parliament and the Shura Council to meet in the coming days.

Saleh will remain in power until elections and will only resign under the framework of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, Al Jazeera television said yesterday, citing Abdo Al Janadi, deputy information minister.

The president had earlier refused to hand over power to the opposition under the terms of a transition plan drawn up by the GCC.

Reacting to Saleh's comments, Tawakul Karman, Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize winner and leading woman activist, said the president's latest offer could not be trusted and that protests would continue.

Call for polls

"We don't believe this man and if he wants to step down, okay, that is up to him," she told Al Jazeera television.

"He has to hand over power; he has to give the power that he has stolen to the revolutionaries, the rule of the revolution. We don't believe him," Tawakul said. "We are continuing our peaceful revolution."

Late last month Saleh called for early elections in his first speech since his return from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, which provoked a wave of violent protests.

Saleh, who had travelled to Saudi Arabia for treatment after a June assassination attempt, said then that he accepted a power transfer, adding that the vice-president retained authority to hold talks with the opposition.

Saleh was seriously wounded when one or more bombs planted inside the mosque of his presidential palace exploded on June 3.