Saleh's remarks come a day ahead of a rally dubbed 'Friday of Departure' by protesters [AFP]

Yemen's president has offered an amnesty to military personnel who have defected to the opposition and called for his resignation.

The offer from Ali Abdullah Saleh came after 52 protesters were shot dead in Sanaa, the capital, on Friday, leading a senior general to side with the demonstrators.

"I announce a general amnesty for those who committed foolishness before and after Monday," Saleh said in comments aired on Yemeni state television on Thursday.

"We consider it foolishness and a reaction to what happened on Friday."

Saleh urged all military officers and soldiers who have defected and joined the opposition to "return to reason," describing their actions as "stupid".

Presidential guards loyal to Saleh clashed on Thursday with army units backing opposition groups demanding his departure.

In his address, Saleh promised to transfer power peacefully, but gave no indication of the timing or conditions.

"There is no way by any means or circumstance for the political system to offer itself to the gallows," Saleh said.

"By all means come for political dialogue, and power can be transferred peacefully through constitutional institutions."

He also vowed to defend himself by "all possible means" against the escalating campaign seeking to unseat him.

The president's remarks come a day ahead of a rally dubbed "Friday of Departure" by protesters.

Facing mounting protests over his three decades in power, Saleh has offered a new presidential election by January 2012 instead of September 2013, when his term ends.

Source: Agencies