Yemen president stands firm as MPs join protest

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Sanaa, Feb 21 (AFP) Yemeni President Ali AbdullahSaleh, in power since 1978, said today only defeat at theballot box will make him quit, even as MPs joined thousands ofprotesters in Sanaa calling for his departure.

In the country''s south, police shot dead a protesterin the regional capital, Aden, where protests have ragedkilling 12 people and wounding dozens since February 16,medics and witnesses said.

"If they want me to quit, I will only leave throughthe ballot box," Saleh told a news conference as theprotesters, including opposition MPs, gathered outside SanaaUniversity.

"The opposition are raising the level of theirdemands, some of which are illicit," the Yemeni leader said.

Saleh, whose long reign makes him one of the MiddleEast''s great survivors, said the protests were "not new,"accusing his opponents of having been behind thedemonstrations for a while.

Opposition MPs, who vowed to take to the streets in astatement issued on Sunday, joined students who have beenprotesting for the past nine days.

Security forces surrounded the protesters as theygathered in a nearby square carrying banners declaring:"People want change," "People want to overthrow the regime"and "Leave".

The Common Forum, an alliance of parliamentaryopposition groups has urged all of its parties on Sunday to"join the protesting youths... in their demonstrations againstoppression, tyranny and corruption," in a statement receivedby AFP.

Responding to Saleh''s calls earlier this month toresume dialogue, stalled since October, the parliamentaryopposition had refrained from calling for protests sinceFebruary 3.

But "after bloodshed and the fall of victims, andafter the government has sent its thugs onto the streets... weinsist that there is no dialogue with bullets and batons" andwith a regime "that brings thugs to occupy public places andterrorise people," the statement said.

Protests, have become increasingly violent inpoverty striken Yemen despite calls by Saleh -- who waselected to a seven-year-term in September 2006 -- urgingdialogue to form a government of national unity.

Farther south, in Aden, Yemeni police shot dead aprotester and wounded four others on Monday, witnesses andmedics told AFP.

Ali al-Khalaqi died of his wounds at a hospital inAden. One of the four others receiving treatment is seriouslywounded, medics told AFP.

Khalaqi is the 12th protester to die in the portcity since February 16, according to an AFP tally. Dozens ofpeople have been wounded, including seven soldiers. (AFP)

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