When protests first broke out in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to quell the uprising by offering not to seek another term in 2013, after having ruled the country for over three decades. Then, as he faced a wave of high-profile defections early this week after a violent crackdown on demonstrators last Friday, Saleh moved his departure date up to January 2012. On Wednesday, after opposition groups rejected that concession, Saleh made a new offer: he now says he'll step down by the end of 2011. The opposition wants the president to depart immediately.
Saleh has warned that Yemen could slip into civil war if he is ousted in what he perceives as a coup. Saleh wrote in a letter to opposition groups and army commander Ali Mohsen, who recently sided with protesters, "At this historic moment Yemen needs wisdom to avoid slipping into violence ... that would destroy gains and leave the country facing a dangerous fate." Saleh's letter proposed holding a referendum on a new constitution and then a parliamentary election and presidential poll before the end of the year, according to Reuters.
Saleh's offer comes on the same day that Yemen's parliament approved a 30-day state of emergency in the country that suspends the constitution, bans street protests, and gives Saleh more power to arrest and detain people and censor the media. Political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani tells Reuters that behind all these developments, he thinks Saleh is "maneuvering for favorable exit terms" and trying to secure his assets and immunity from prosecution. Even if Saleh goes, however, it's unclear how protesters would feel if Mohsen, a powerful general and former Saleh ally, filled the power vacuum. Yemen's opposition groups believe a military leader would threaten their efforts to restore stability and institute democratic reforms, The Wall Street Journal explains, and Shiite groups in the north resent Mohsen for suppressing their recent rebellions, Reuters adds.