Opposition groups and religious scholars are seeking and end to the country's political crisis [EPA]

Yemen's opposition and clerics have offered president Ali Abdullah Saleh a smooth exit from power this year, but protesters staged new demonstrations and continue to demand his immediate ouster.

The plan, agreed on at a meeting of opposition groups and religious scholars, seeks to end the country's political crisis and make sure Saleh steps down by the end of 2011.

It calls for a "peaceful transition of power" from Saleh, and also demands a probe be launched into a deadly crackdown on the recent anti-government protests.

"We've agreed on a settlement proposal including a roadmap for the president's departure before the end of this year," said opposition parliamentary spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri.

The five-point plan was yet to receive a response from the veteran leader, al-Sabri said.

Once Saleh gave an answer, it would ultimately be up to the people of Yemen to "decide whether to accept or reject this proposal," said a statement by the Common Forum, an alliance of parliamentary opposition.

Calls for reform

Saleh had previously promised to step down after national elections in 2013, an offer anti-government protesters wholly rejected.

The new opposition plan does not detail how Saleh, who has been in power 32 years, would hand over power, but al-Sabri said the opposition expects the president to come forward with his own proposal.

"The opposition's vision is that Saleh moves according to a roadmap that begins with a key solution or a programme for his departure," al-Sabri said.

He added that the programme should "be clear and frank and should not extend beyond the end of the current year."

The proposal also calls for steps to change the constitution and rewriting election laws to ensure fair representation in parliament, removing Saleh's relatives from leadership positions in the army and security forces, and a guaranteed right to peaceful protest.

Unimpressed

Protesters, meanwhile, were seemingly unimpressed by the new joint proposal, with thousands marching and vowing to intensify protests until Saleh's departure.

On Thursday, tens of thousands protested in several cities including the capital Sanaa, Aden and the central city of Bayda. Security officials said four protesters were wounded in Bayda when government supporters opened fire at their
opponents.

Saleh's decades of autocratic rule have been rocked by a wave of protests in which at least 19 people have been killed since February 16, according to an AFP toll based on reports and witnesses.

Under opposition pressure to stand down, Saleh announced on February 2 a freezing of constitutional amendments that could have seen him president for life. He also put off a controversial plan to hold an April election without a promised dialogue on reform.

But as anti-regime protests gained momentum across Yemen, Saleh vowed on Sunday to defend his government "with every drop of blood," accusing his opponents of hijacking protests in a ploy to split the nation.

Source: Agencies