SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday reiterated that he would remain in power until his term ends in 2013, rejecting an opposition plan for him to step aside this year.
“The peaceful and smooth transition of power is not carried out through chaos but through the will of the people expressed through elections,” an official source at the presidential office said in a statement.
The opposition on Friday said Saleh was sticking to an earlier plan to step down in 2013 but had agreed to a proposal by religious leaders to revamp elections, parliament and the judicial system.
Saleh, an ally of the United States in its battle against an al Qaeda wing based in his country, has struggled to cement a truce with Shi’ite rebels in the north and quell a budding secessionist rebellion in the south.
Protests have taken place across Yemen, a country of 23 million which borders the world No. 1 oil exporter Saudi Arabia.
The protesters say they are frustrated with widespread corruption and soaring unemployment in a country where 40 percent of its 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger.
Two students were arrested on Saturday in al-Mukalla in the eastern Hadramawt province after police fired shots in the air to disperse several thousand protesters, witnesses said.
Separately, Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, Hashid Abdullah al-Ahmar, resigned from the ruling party on Saturday in protest at the use of violence against anti-government demonstrations, a source close to him told Reuters.
His resignation comes just a day after an influential ally of the president, Ali Ahmad al-Omrani, a tribal sheikh from the southern al-Baida province, resigned.
Omrani’s resignation came a week after nine parliament members from the General People’s Congress Party (GPC) resigned.
Earlier on Saturday witnesses told Reuters three protesters were wounded on Friday evening when Yemeni security forces fired into the air and used tear gas to disperse demonstrators at a sit-in in the southern port city of Aden.
Protestors were dispersed after they had gathered at a square in the city’s Sheikh Othman district following Friday prayers, the witnesses said.
Possibly more than 100,000 protested on Friday in one of the largest demonstrations in Sanaa yet and similar numbers rallied in Taiz, south of the capital, a Reuters reporter said.
More than 20,000 protesters marched in Aden and tens of thousands marched in Ibb, south of Sanaa.
Shi’ite Muslim rebels in the north on Friday accused the Yemeni army of firing rockets on a protest in Harf Sufyan, where thousands had gathered. Two people were killed and 13 injured.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa; Writing by Jason Benham; Editing by Angus MacSwan