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Image: Yemeni President Saleh addresses the parliament in Sanaa
Khaled Abdullah  /  Reuters
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh addresses the parliament in Sanaa Wednesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/2/2011 5:33:59 AM ET 2011-02-02T10:33:59

The Yemeni president told parliament Wednesday that he would not seek another term in office or hand power to his son — an apparent reaction to protests in this impoverished nation that have been inspired by Tunisia's revolt and the turmoil in Egypt.

The U.S.-allied Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for nearly 32 years, spoke to lawmakers in both houses of the assembly on the eve of mass rallies that the opposition has called for Thursday in all Yemeni provinces.

Activists and opposition supporters have staged several protests in the capital Sanaa , boldly asking for Saleh's removal and decrying reports he plans to install his son in power.

"I won't seek to extend my presidency for another term or have my son inherit it," Saleh told the parliament. "No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock," he added.

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Saleh has earlier tried to defuse simmering tensions in Yemen by raising salaries for the army and by denying opponents' claims he plans to install his son as his successor.

But that hasn't stopped critics of his rule from taking to the streets of Sanaa. In January, tens of thousands gathered in days of protests boldly calling for Saleh to step down — a red line that few dissenters had previously dared to cross here.

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Saleh's current term in office expires in 2013 but proposed amendments to the constitution could let him remain in power for two additional terms of ten years.

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After the Tunisian revolt, which forced that country's president to flee into exile, and the mass protests in Egypt calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak's 30 year-long rule, Saleh ordered income taxes slashed in half and instructed his government to control prices.

He deployed anti-riot police and soldiers to several key areas in Sanaa and its surroundings to prevent riots.

But the street protests, led by opposition members and youth activists, continued, adding to the threats to Yemen's stability.

In the parliament Wednesday, Saleh called upon the opposition to meet for a dialogue on political reforms and their demands.

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Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri rejected the call for dialogue and expressed doubts about Saleh's pledge not to seek re-election.

'Tranquilizers'
Al-Sabri said Saleh made a similar promise in 2006, but then failed to fulfill it, ran again and was re-elected.

"The calls for dialogue are not serious and are merely meant to be tranquilizers," al-Sabri said. He added that the opposition parties would meet Wednesday to prepare an official response to Saleh's announcement.

Another opposition figure, Mohammed al-Saadi, undersecretary of the Islamist Islah party, gave a cautious welcome to the announcement but said Thursday's opposition rally would go on as planned.

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"We consider this initiative positive and we await the next concrete steps. As for our plan for a rally tomorrow, the plan stands and it will be organized and orderly," he said.

"This is a peaceful struggle through which the people can make their voices heard and express their aspirations," he added.

Yemen is the Arab world's most impoverished nation and has become a haven for al-Qaida militants.

Saleh's government is riddled with corruption, has little control outside the capital, and its main source of income — oil — could run dry in a decade.

Nearly half of Yemen's population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day and doesn't have access to proper sanitation. Less than a tenth of the roads are paved.

Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict, flooding the cities. The country is enduring a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Yemen's president won't seek re-election

  1. Closed captioning of: Yemen's president won't seek re-election

    >> that this kind of people's uprising, especially against?mym long-term leaders could xp region. well, in yemen today, the president there for 30 yearstk@ announced, and if this sounds familiar look around here in egypt, announced he will not be standing for re-election there. you'll recall the king of jordan w preemptively dissolved his own government. so the yemeni president not running again,q'q promising not to install his son in office. a big issue here in

Photos: Yemen in the spotlight

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  1. Yemen’s profile rose dramatically following a cargo bomb plot on two planes bound for the United States on October 29, 2010. The parcels were intercepted by Dubai and Britain, and several days later the Yemen-based group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility. The Muslim nation has increasingly gained a reputation as a safe haven for Islamic extremists. Here, a Muezzin, who calls Muslims to prayer five times a day, looks out from the Jalalya mosque in Ibb. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A weapons seller sits in his improvised shop at a truck stop in Al Adwass, offering both second-hand and new Kalashnikov assault rifles. Yemen has approximately 60 million weapons in circulation. There were no regulations in place for arms in the country until 2002 for the capital, San’a, and 2008 for the rest of the country. Yemen is struggling to implement any new arms regulations as it tries to end a civil war in the north that has raged on and off since 2004, as well as a separatist rebellion in the south. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A military checkpoint at an entry to San’a. Yemen has beefed up security and increased the number of checkpoints and random searches in an effort to crack down on Islamic militants. In December 2009, Yemen’s AQAP claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas Day airliner attack, raising alarms in the international community. Yemen declared open war on al-Qaida in January 2010. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. An intelligence officer checks passengers in a passing car against the pictures of two wanted al-Qaida operatives, Abdallah Salem Dahim Al Elyani Al Kahtani (l) and Abdallah Abul Karim Ibrahim Al Saloum (r). AQAP also claimed responsibility for the September 2010 crash of a UPS plane in Dubai in which two crew members died, but the U.A.E. said there was no evidence of an explosive device aboard the jet. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Qat market in the Old City in the capital, San’a. The leafy narcotic plant is a mild stimulant and is grown throughout the country. It is a widely practiced tradition to chew the leaves in the afternoon, though the convention hampers productivity in an already suffering economy.

    Photojournalist's view: Yemen is a complicated puzzle (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Yemen began a trial in absentia of U.S.-born Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki on November 4, 2010. Awlaki has ties to AQAP and is reportedly in hiding in Yemen. He released a video on November 8, 2010, calling on Muslims to kill Americans and members of any collaborating Arab governments. Here, a woman wearing a veil with the traditional pattern of San’a walks down a street in the Old City. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Followers of Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zindani wait for him to speak in the Mashaad mosque in San’a. Yemen's council of clerics has called for jihad, or holy war, in the event of a foreign military intervention amid speculation the United States might pursue al-Qaida extremists there. The clerics, including the radical Sheikh Abdulmajeed al-Zindani, who is labeled by the U.S. as a "global terrorist", also voiced "rejection to any security or military agreement or cooperation [between Yemen and] any foreign party if it violates Islamic Sharia [law]." (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Extremists destroyed the house of Abdulmalik al-Mansour in the al-Hasaba neighborhood in the capital on April 16, 2009. Al-Mansour was accused of tearing up and stepping on a Quran in a mosque a few months after the establishment of the “Vice and Virtue Committee.” The attackers justified their actions by saying they were protecting the holy book of Islam. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Central Security Service members train in the outskirts of San’a. CSS forces are at the helm of the fight against al-Qaida in Yemen, and their commander, Yahya Saleh, is the nephew of Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh. This particular unit was involved in the last two operations against al-Qaida in Al Ahrb, north of San’a. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. President Ali Abdallah Saleh won the country’s first-ever presidential election in 1999 by a landslide, with 96 percent of the vote. The main opposition party, however, was not allowed to put forward a candidate. Here, portraits of leaders in the Middle East hang on the walls of a barber shop in San’a’s Old City. From left to right: Sheikh Yassin, founder of the Palestinian group Hamas; Khaled Mechaal, Hamas’ leader in exile in Syria; Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq; Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite group Hezbollah in Lebanon; and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A man walks to one of San’a’s 30 wells to look for drinking water. In the background, construction continues on a mosque that President Saleh is building as a legacy to his presidency. The country’s water resources are drying up rapidly – the water crisis is deemed among the worst in the world and is aggravated by excessive irrigation by farmers growing Qat. A few years ago, water could be found at a depth of 70-100 meters; now it is necessary to dig 450 meters into the ground to find the precious resource. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Men sit idle in the Old City of San’a near Bab Al Yemen, waiting for work. Unemployment is on the rise and there are fears it could drive more people into religious extremism. The cash-strapped government is almost powerless to meet the needs of an expanding population and if it cannot pay public sector wages, Yemen is at risk of descending into chaos. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. An armed tribesman in the restive province of Marib, east of San’a. The city of Marib has been a hotbed for extremists and insurgents returning from jihad missions overseas. In 2002, a U.S. predator drone killed several al-Qaida operatives here. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Women in the back of a pick-up truck return from working in fields along the coastal plain of Tihama on the Red Sea. Almost a third of Yemen’s workforce is out of a job and more than 40 percent of the country’s 23 million people live on less than $2 a day. For women, a lack of education lessens the already low chances of working for a living. The female literacy rate is 35 percent compared to 73 percent for men, according to World Bank figures from 2005. Also, there is no law in Yemen that states how old a woman must be to get married, which has led to child marriages and complications in childbirth for young women who have barely reached puberty when they become pregnant. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lack of electricity is widespread and regular power outages slow down businesses and development in Yemen, which is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Here, a man holds a block of ice in the desert area of the coastal Tihama plain. Without electricity, local populations have maintained age-old methods of preserving food. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Yemeni men listen to music while chewing Qat and looking out at the view of the Tihama coastal plain from a mountain ledge near Al Mahweet. Yemen is near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption index, ranking 154 out of 180 countries last year. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Most of what used to be North Yemen is located in the only mountain range in the Arabian Peninsula, the Hijaz Mountains. North and South Yemen formally united in 1990 but some in the south, home to most of the country’s oil facilities, complain that the historically more wealthy northerners used unification as an excuse to seize resources in the south. Southerners say the government deprives them of jobs and many believe they were better off before unification, when South Yemen was part of the socialist bloc and welfare state established with Soviet aid. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Men wearing traditional dress stand on a path through cactus trees. Most of the villages in the countryside are made of local stone and surrounded by natural vegetation, making it difficult to distinguish them from the surrounding wilderness. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The House of the Rock, or Dar al-Hajar, in Wadi Dhar was the winter residence of Imam Yahya, who ruled Yemen from 1918 until 1948. The palace was built atop a massive rock in the 1930s and has become a cultural symbol of Yemen. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Fishermen walk along a beach in Bir Ali, a village on the Arabian Sea coast in the Shbwa province. Most of the fish is exported to Japan, but it is a vital resource for people living along the Arabian Sea coast. (Karim Ben Khelifa) Back to slideshow navigation
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