President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday announced an amnesty for journalists being tried or convicted of press offences, in a gesture to mark the anniversary of Yemen's unification.
Saleh is to "pardon journalists who have cases before courts or court rulings on public rights" to mark the 20th anniversary of the unification of North and South Yemen, the defense ministry's 26sep.net news website reported.
Citing the governor of Taez, where Saleh was marking the May 22, 1990 unification, the website said the president called on journalists "to devote their pens to the service of the nation and promote national unity."
The report did not say when the amnesty would come into effect.
Sep26.net reported on Friday that charges had been dropped against an opposition party journalist who was detained for months before being freed on health grounds in March.
Freed for "health and humanitarian reasons," according to a Yemeni official, Maqaleh was on trial for his writings on the war in the north between Shiite rebels and the army, which ended with a February truce.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) named Yemen's president earlier this month among the world's 40 worst "predators of the press."
It gave him that title after Sanaa set up a special court for press offences, in what RSF said was a bid "to limit coverage of dirty wars being waged in the north and south of the country."
RSF condemned a "sharp decline" in Yemen's press freedom since the start of the second half of 2009, describing the media situation in the war-stricken country as "very serious."
But on Friday, Saleh also extended an olive branch to the opposition, offering to form a national unity government and announcing an amnesty for imprisoned southern separatists and Shiite rebels in northern Yemen.
In a first reaction, the Shiite rebels said the announcement was a "major step forward towards achieving peace and establishing security and stability" in Saada, the rebels' stronghold.
"We welcome ... the release of all the detainees," rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdessalam told AFP.
"We hope for the release of all the detainees ... as this step will help permanently end the war" which first broke out in 2004, he said, estimating the prisoners to number 1,000.
"We hope the authorities' intentions are true," he said.
In a televised speech on Friday, Saleh also invited all political groups inside and outside Yemen to take part in "a responsible national dialogue, within the framework of the constitutional institutions."
"According to this dialogue, it is possible to form a government of all the influential political parties represented in parliament," said Saleh, speaking in Taez, southwest of Sanaa.
Saleh said the amnesty would apply to "all outlaws" -- a reference to southern separatists who want to re-establish the former South Yemen as a separate state.
"Anti-government elements who were arrested" in the north, where the Shiite rebels are based on the border with Saudi Arabia, would also be freed.
A truce between the government and the rebels in February followed an all-out offensive that Sanaa launched against the Zaidis last August in a bid to eradicate their five-year revolt.
Saleh's government is battling a raft of challenges in the Arabian peninsula's poorest country.
These include the southern and northern revolts, restless armed tribesmen who periodically kidnap foreigners for ransom or to blackmail the government, a resurgent al-Qaeda and Western pressure to quash the Islamic radicals.