Obama presses Saleh on Yemen power transfer
A top aide to US President Barack Obama met Yemen's convalescing leader in Riyadh on Sunday and urged him to sign a power transfer deal, reviving a Gulf peace plan for the impoverished state.
The parliamentary opposition in Sanaa, meanwhile, called for an escalation in the protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh that have rocked Yemen since late January.
"The United States believes that a transition in Yemen should begin immediately so that the Yemeni people can realise their aspirations," the White House said.
The call came after Saleh received top US counter-terrorism official John Brennan in a hospital of the Saudi capital where he is recovering from a bomb attack at his presidential palace compound in Sanaa last month.
Despite strong Western pressure, Saleh has repeatedly refused to sign the plan brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) under which he would hand over power within 30 days in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution.
"During the meeting, Mr Brennan called upon President Saleh to fulfill expeditiously his pledge to sign the GCC-brokered agreement for peaceful and constitutional political transition in Yemen," the White House said.
"The United States believes that a transition in Yemen should begin immediately so that the Yemeni people can realise their aspirations."
Saleh has refused to cede power despite anti-regime protests in which at least 200 people have been killed across Yemen, saying repeatedly that under the constitution he should serve out his current term of office running out in 2013.
Before the attack he pledged to sign the GCC deal but later reneged, prompting the regional bloc of Yemen's oil-rich Arab neighbours in the Gulf to suspend its mediation efforts on May 22.
But after talks with Brennan, Saleh said "the Gulf initiative and the UN statement are the platforms to exit the current crisis."
Saleh also renewed his calls for "a national dialogue that would include all political forces which would ... preserve Yemen's unity, security and stability," the defence ministry reported on its website.
State television aired footage of Saleh's meeting with Brennan in which the president seemed in much better shape than in a prerecorded speech aired last Thursday in which he sat stiffly and looked badly burned.
Sunday's footage showed the 69-year-old wearing a suit, gloves and slippers, moving his hands and feet but with burn marks still visible on his face.
Back home, the Common Forum parliamentary opposition in a statement urged an "escalation in the peaceful revolt to oust what's left of this gang ... to end its kidnap of power which is the right of the people alone."
It urged Yemenis to "refer (Saleh's regime) to justice ... for the crimes it has committed against our people that have not stopped until this minute."
Yemen's elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, on Sunday shelled a district of the opposition stronghold of Taez, south of Sanaa, killing two civilians and wounding 10, according to residents.
And in the port city of Hudaydah, pro- and anti-Saleh protesters clashed before police fired tear gas to disperse them, witnesses said. Medics told AFP that 10 people were injured.