Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled since 1978, said last July that he would not seek another seven-year mandate because he wanted to open the way for the peaceful rotation of power.

 

Saturday's announcement was the second time Saleh changed his mind about an earlier statement not to run, having done so in 1999 - the first time he faced a direct vote.

 

Saleh told tens of thousands of cheering supporters in San'a: "I comply with the people's pressure and upon the people's desire; I will in run the coming polls."

 

"Continue the path"

Students, civil servants and tribal leaders gathered outside the stadium where the Saleh's General Congress Party was holding a convention to nominate its candidate for the polls. They waved signs and banners reading "Continue the path," "We accept nobody but you," and "We'd sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Ali."

 

Yemen is one of the world's
poorest countries

Saleh's party had pressed him since the convention opened Thursday to join the race.

 

Earlier in his speech on Saturday, Saleh mentioned what he said were "the chants, statements, messages, poems and calls by the scholars, intellectuals, civil society and political parties" urging him to run.

 

An opposition figure said the announcement was expected.


"We knew that the president would reach this result ... It is a farce; he is a comedian," Mohammed al-Mugaleh of the Socialist Party told The Associated Press.

 

Sceptical opposition

Opposition figures were sceptical that Saleh would follow through on his pledge last year. They viewed it as a ploy to provoke popular calls for him to run again or to open the way for his son Ahmed, 39, to take the top job.

 

Thousands of security forces were deployed around the country and the capital, and authorities arrested 15 political activists in an attempt to prevent demonstrations urging Saleh not to run.

 

Saleh ruled first as president of North Yemen and then as head of the unified state after the May 1990 merger of North and South.

 

Opposition parties, having predicted Saleh's announcement, agreed on Friday to name a single candidate to run against the president, although they did name him.