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Yemen leader postpones US trip as pressure mounts

SANAA, Feb 14 – Yemen\’s president, under pressure from protests calling for his overthrow,  postponed a visit to the United States as the opposition agreed to resume talks with the government.

"President Ali Abdullah Saleh has decided to postpone a visit to the United States… scheduled for late February due to the current developments in the region," an official in his office said, quoted by state news agency Saba.

The two countries would to set a new date, the statement added.

The Yemeni opposition meanwhile agreed to resume talks suspended since October with the government, as pressure rose on the regime in the wake of protests calling for the president\’s overthrow.

The Common Forum, an alliance of parliamentary opposition groups, is "ready to sign a framework agreement this week… on (resuming) the national dialogue," it said, in a statement received by AFP.

It said the draft deal calls for the formation of a unity government and the inclusion in the dialogue of the secessionist Southern Movement, the Shiite rebels of northern Yemen and opposition members in exile.

Talks would resume from the point at which they were suspended on October 31, said the Common Forum, grouping Al-Islah (Reform), which is Yemen\’s main Islamist opposition, the Yemeni Socialist Party and other smaller factions.

"We urge the authorities to learn a lesson from what happened in Tunisia and Egypt," where massive revolts by the people forced out their respective leaders, it said.

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The opposition warned of a "popular uprising" in Yemen, a country they said was weighed down by "corruption, poverty, unemployment, repression, injustice and tyranny."

Protests similar to those that brought down leaders in Tunisia and Egypt have been held in Yemen since mid-January calling for Saleh to step down.

On Sunday, riot police used batons to disperse a protest by an estimated 2,000 demonstrators in Sanaa, injuring a woman and making 10 arrests, according to witnesses.

Police also used batons in the southern city of Taez to break up a protest in the main square, arresting 120 demonstrators, participants told AFP.

The Common Forum urged Saleh to prove his goodwill by dismissing his family members and relatives holding top posts in institutions such as the Yemeni army, police, government and regional councils.

Under opposition pressure to stand down, Saleh, in power for 32 years, said on February 2 his son would not succeed him.

He also announced a freeze on constitutional amendments that could have enabled him to stay in office for life.

And the president put off a controversial plan to hold an April election without a promised dialogue on reform.

He has appealed for an end to street protests.

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But later on Sunday, hundreds took to the streets in Crater, a district of the main southern city of Aden, protesting against dialogue with Saleh\’s regime and calling for its overthrow, witnesses told AFP.

"No dialogue, no talks," they chanted. "The people want to topple the regime." "Out, out, Ali."

A security official said: "Security services did not stop them but were heavily deployed to prevent riots and vandalism."

Elected to a seven-year term in September 2006, Saleh has urged the opposition to resume dialogue aimed at forging a government of national unity.

The current parliament\’s term was extended by two years to April under a February 2009 agreement between the ruling General People\’s Congress and the opposition to allow time for dialogue on political reform.

But the talks have stalled since the government decided to hold a legislative election on April 27 without waiting for the dialogue process to run its course.

And a special committee set up to oversee reform has met only once.

Besides poverty and unemployment in the Arab world\’s poorest country, Saleh\’s government is grappling a secessionist movement in the south, rebellion in the north and a regrouping of Al-Qaeda on its soil.

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