Protesters have been demanding an end to Saleh's 33 year rule since January [Reuters]

Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to sign a plan to transfer power to his deputy and end the crisis that has gripped the country since January, a senior opposition figure said.

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Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, has three times backed down from signing an initiative presented by the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) calling for the president to hand over his powers to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, ahead of an early presidential election.

Mohammed Basindwa, head of the opposition National Council, said an agreement has been reached on an operational mechanism that had been demanded by Saleh, and was expected to be signed on Tuesday.

"Everything has been agreed upon, and the president is supposed to sign the Gulf initiative tomorrow [Tuesday]. The opposition and the vice president will also sign the operational mechanism," Basindwa told the Reuters news agency.

Yemen has been paralysed by months of protests that have weakened the government's control on the country, with concerns over al-Qaeda linked fighters taking hold of swathes of the country in the south.

The agreement came about following intervention from US and European diplomats who put pressure on both parties to make compromises, opposition sources said.

Dissidents missing

A source in Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) ruling party said the agreement had been ready for several days but a party in the opposition alliance had been against the deal.

Under the agreement, opposition officials said Saleh would retain the title of president but without any powers.

They said one of the problems had been over whether a military committee being set up to oversee the armed forces would have the power to dismiss commanders who refuse to obey orders.

Saleh agreed to give the committee such powers because it would be led by Hadi, they said.

Opposition officials said the presidential election was expected to be held in January.

The GPC source said one of the risks to the agreement was that dissident military commander, Ali Goshen, and tribal chief Sadeq al-Ahmar were not part of the accord.

"One of them has the military power and the other has the money, and their power is greater than the coalition alliance," the source said.

Source: Agencies