Saleh has been in power since 1978 but has faced persistent protests against his rule since January [Reuters]

Yemen's embattled president Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to a deal brokered by Gulf Arab mediators that would lead to a transition of power in the country after weeks of anti-government protests.

Tariq Shami, a presidential aide, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the president had accepted in principle the proposal from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) that would see him step down.

The GCC plan would see Saleh submit his resignation to parliament within 30 days, with a presidential vote to be held within two months.

Shami said the opposition must first agree to the deal in order for Saleh to accept the plan.

"The president has agreed and accepted the initiative of the GCC," he said.

"The transition of power in Yemen will take some time. It needs an agreement between the national powers and the opposition at the same time. This thing will happen within 60 days if we have an agreement."

The US, which has considered Saleh's government a key ally in tackling al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, welcomed the plan and urged all sides to "swiftly" implement a peaceful transfer of power.

"We applaud the announcements by the Yemeni government and the opposition that they have accepted the GCC-brokered agreement to resolve the political crisis in a peaceful and orderly manner," said Jay Carney, White House spokesman.

Mohammed Qahtan, an opposition spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the opposition parties also welcome the deal. He said a basis of trust is lacking for the opposition to join a national unity government, but he said the opposition would start a conversation regardless.

"The vice-president will take over for a certain period and then we will see what happens," he said.

'Civil war'

Saleh, who has ruled the country for more than three decades, has been under pressure to step down ever since anti-government protests began several weeks ago.

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On Saturday, the president accused the opposition of dragging the country into a civil war, as Yemenis boarded up their shops and businesses across the country in protest against his rule.

In a speech in Sanaa, the capital, he called on Yemen's young people to form a political party according to
the constitution and said the Arab state would not accept any tutelage "whatsoever", without giving further details.

"They [the opposition] want to drag the area to civil war and we refuse to be dragged to civil war," Saleh said.

"Security, safety and stability are in Yemen's interests and the interests of the region."

The developments came a day after opponents and supporters of the Yemeni president flooded the streets of Sanaa and the southern city of Taiz to stage rival demonstrations.

Protesters demanding that Saleh resign dubbed the day "Last Chance Friday", while pro-government demonstrators called it "Reconciliation Friday".

The weekly day of communal prayers for Muslims has in recent weeks become an occasion for rival political rallies.

Framework of constitution

Amen al-Basha, the chairperson of the Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights and a pro-democracy activist, told Al Jazeera that Saleh's "regime has lost the trust [of Yemenis]".

"It is the desire of the people, it is the will of the people, for Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down immediately," she said.

Pro-democracy protesters would not accept any plan that did not include this provision, she said.

"Neighbouring countries; no negotiations, no dialogue," read posters carried by anti-government demonstrators, apparently referring to the GCC plan, under which Saleh would transfer powers to Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the country's vice-president.

The Peaceful Youth Revolt, a group that has helped organise protests against Saleh's government, issued a statement rejecting the GCC initiative, saying "it does not include Saleh's immediate ouster", and "provides safeguards to him, his family and aides who are all killers".

Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, has faced protests since late January calling for his departure that have cost more than 130 lives.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies