On Tuesday, however, the Yemeni leader offered to talk to the secessionists.
"If there are any political demands, they are welcome. Come to dialogue," Saleh said.
"Now, we are going to form local committees to talk to these forces, if they accept dialogue," he added, stressing that "real demands" will be welcome.
"We reject the spreading of the culture of hate, racism, and regionalism," he said.
Southerners complain of economic and social discrimination at the hands of the northern-controlled Sanaa government.
Pro-independence demonstrations have increasedin the south in recent months amid a worsening economic situation.
Western governments have been pushing for a sharp increase in aid to Yemen to help Sanaa tackle multiple sources of dissent.
South Yemen was independent from 1967 until it united with the north in 1990.
The south seceded in 1994, sparking a short-lived civil war that ended when the south was overrun by northern troops.