Yemen president struggles to quell protests

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Sanaa, Feb 20 (AP) Yemen''s embattled president todaysought a way out of the political crisis gripping hisimpoverished Arab nation, offering to oversee a dialoguebetween the ruling party and the opposition to defuse thestandoff with protesters demanding his ouster.

The offer by the US-backed Ali Abdullah Saleh whichopposition groups swiftly rejected came as protests callingfor his ouster continued in at least four cities around thecountry for the 11th straight day.

A health official in the southern city of Aden saidtoday that a 16-year-old boy died the night before from woundssuffered at a protest, bringing the countrywide death toll toeight since the protests began.

Saleh''s rule continues to show signs of resilience inthe face of the sustained protests, that have seen securityforces and regime supporters battling demonstrators, mostlyuniversity students. The Yemeni regime, however, is not doingas well in the south of the country, where resentment ofSaleh''s rule is far more entrenched and a secessionistmovement is steadily gaining strength.

There have been deadly clashes there betweenprotesters and security forces using live ammunition, rubberbullets and tear gas. South Yemen used to be an independentnation, but became united with the north in 1990. An attemptto secede by the south in 1994 was brutally crushed by Saleh''sarmy and allied tribesmen.

Yemen is a tribal society where almost every adultmale has a firearm. A decision by the country''s major tribesto take sides in the standoff between Saleh and his criticscould decide the president''s fate.

Protests continued today, with 3,000 universitystudents marching in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. Demonstrationswere also held in Aden''s Mansoura district, the town of Taizand the province of al-Hadida.

The protests pose the most serious challenge toSaleh''s rule to date.

He has already made a series of concessions, pledgingthat his son would not succeed him and that he would not seekanother term in office. Today, he repeated his offer fornegotiations.

"Dialogue is the best means, not sabotage or cuttingoff roads," Saleh, in office for more than 30 years, told anews conference. "I am ready to sit on the negotiating tableand meet their demands if they are legitimate," said theYemeni leader, who warned against "infiltrators" seeking todivide Yemenis and sabotage their country.

A group of opposition parties refused in a statementtoday to engage in dialogue while security forces continued tosuppress demonstrations.

"No dialogue with bullets, clubs and thuggery," itsaid. (AP)

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