|Protesters have been holding rallies since January calling for Saleh, Yemen's long-time president, to quit office [AFP]
A coalition of protest groups in Yemen has announced the formation of a transitional presidential council it says will prepare to run the country when President Ali Abdullah Saleh is fully and finally toppled.
The council "is charged with leading the country during a transition period not to exceed nine months and with forming a government of technocrats," Tawakul Karman, one of the leaders of the protest movement against Saleh, said on Saturday.
Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, was wounded in a bomb attack on his palace in Sanaa on June 3, and was admitted to hospital in Saudi Arabia the following day.
Protesters have since January been calling for him to quit office.
The council will also announce a 501-member "national assembly" that will draft a new constitution, and seeks to "protect the unity of the country before it completely collapses", Karman said.
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The council consists of 17 Yemeni figures of different political affiliation from both inside Yemen and abroad.
They include Ali Nasser Mohammed, the ex-president of formerly independent South Yemen; a former prime minister, Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas; and Abdullah al-Hakimi, an exiled long-time opponent of Saleh.
The new body highlights the gap between Yemen's protesters and Yemen's official opposition parties, who protesters say were late in joining the anti-government rallies inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt.
Many protesters have criticised the parties for seeking to negotiate Saleh's exit instead of trying to bring down his entire government.
Abdu al-Janadi, a spokesman for Saleh's government who is also Yemen's deputy information minister, said the move "pours gas on the fire".
He said that Saleh is "the legal, democratically elected president, and an alternative will only come though elections, not through an illegal coup".
Opposition party officials declined to comment.
Al-Janadi also said that Saleh, who is currently receiving treatment for blast wounds, will return home "soon" from Saudi Arabia.
"The president is in good health. He will return to Yemen soon, but is awaiting the decision of his doctors," he said without specifying a date.