SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has clung to power despite a wave of protests against his 33-year rule, said on Monday he was committed to holding elections for a new president, the state news agency reported.
Saleh issued his statement from Saudi Arabia, where he has been for medical treatment since an assassination attempt in June, saying the vote should be held as soon as possible.
A political source told Reuters that Saleh had reached an agreement with the opposition to hold the elections within three months, with power transferred to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the meantime.
“We have committed to the previous initiatives including the Gulf initiative and the efforts and statement of the (United Nations) Security Council and to moving toward achieving ... as soon as possible arrangements to hold general and free and direct elections for the new president of the republic,” Saleh said in the statement posted on the SABA news agency’s website.
Saudi Arabia had led a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan to end Yemen’s political deadlock by easing Saleh out of office, but he backed out of signing the deal three times at the last minute, leaving Yemen in political limbo.
Last month the Security Council called for “an inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led process of political transition.”
The impoverished Arabian Peninsula country of 23 million people has been in turmoil since January when protesters took to the streets demanding Saleh leave office.
Saleh issued his statement to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday which ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and starts in Yemen on Tuesday, without saying when he would return.
On August 16, Saleh said he would “soon” go back to Yemen from Saudi Arabia where he is recovering from the assassination attempt at his palace, reiterating he would hand over power “via elections, not via coups.
“In the shortest time possible we will find many constitutional ways which will help us to overcome this dangerous phase of the history of our people and which has come to threaten our unity and our freedom and our democracy,” SABA quoted Saleh as saying in Monday’s statement.
The opposition had previously refused to talk to the government until Saleh signed the transition plan.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Martina Fuchs; Editing by David Stamp