Yemen opposition groups called on protesters to march on President Ali Abdullah Saleh's Sanaa palace on Friday in what they called 'Friday of the March Forward' to demand he step down, hoping to end a crisis that his allies abroad fear will benefit Islamist militants.
A coalition of Yemeni opposition groups rejected an offer on Tuesday by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, facing protester demands to resign, to leave office after organizing parliamentary elections by January 2012.
"The opposition rejects the offer as the coming hours will be decisive," Mohammed al-Sabry, spokesman for the main umbrella opposition group, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, Saleh's media secretary Ahmed al-Sufi told Reuters that "President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he will hand over power through (parliamentary) elections and the formation of democratic institutions at the end of 2011 or January 2012."
"Ali Abdullah Saleh does not seek power. Ali Abdullah Saleh will not leave without knowing who he is handing over to."
Fresh defections on Tuesday gave another blow to Saleh as a number of diplomats and a former minister backed pro-democracy protestors demanding an end to the strongman's 32 year-rule.
Abdel-Malik Mansour, Yemen's representative to the Arab League, told Al Arabiya he was siding with the protestors and water and environment minister Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani, sacked with the rest of the cabinet on Sunday, said he was joining "the revolutionaries".
The ambassadors of Yemen to Pakistan, Qatar, Oman and Spain as well as the Yemeni consul in Dubai have decided to back anti-regime protests, the UAE-based Gulf News daily reported on Tuesday.
"After our long waiting for our homeland's voice and interest to win, we declare our total support to the youth and their demands," the newspaper quoted a statement signed by the diplomats.
In their statement, the diplomats urged top officials in the army, public institutions, thinkers and scholars to make the interest of the country and its people "prevail over their personal and family interests."
The latest defections came after top generals, ambassadors and some tribes on Monday backed anti-government protesters in the Arabian Peninsula state in a major blow to Saleh's efforts to ride out demands for his immediate exit.
The death of 52 protesters in Sanaa on Friday at the hands of plainclothes snipers has been the spark behind the string of defections that threatens to finally undo Saleh's domination.
France became the first Western power on Monday to call publicly for Saleh to stand down, with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe describing his departure as "unavoidable".
Attention was set to shift to the United States and Saudi Arabia, two key allies who see Yemen as a bulwark against a dynamic al-Qaeda network that has made skilful use of Yemen's poverty, tribal system and central government dysfunction.
On Monday Saleh asked Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to mediate and state media said he had dispatched his foreign minister to Riyadh with a message for Saudi leaders.
U.S. President Barack Obama, grappling with sweeping change across the region from Egypt to the war zone of Libya, has called for "peaceful transition" in Yemen, where the lack of a clear successor to Saleh has increased global nervousness.
For two years, the Obama administration has had a relationship of convenience with Yemen: The U.S. kept the Yemeni government armed and flush with cash. In return, Yemen's leaders helped fight al-Qaeda or, as often, looked the other way while the U.S. did.
Of all the uprisings and protests that have swept the Middle East this year, none is more likely than Yemen to have immediate damaging effects on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Yemen is home to al-Qaeda's most active franchise, and as President Saleh's government crumbles, so does Washington's influence there.
Saleh is a perennial survivor who has stayed in power for 32 years throughout a civil war, numerous uprisings and militant campaigns. He was quoted by Al Arabiya as saying in typical fashion that most Yemenis were with him and he would remain steadfast.
Yemeni TV showed Saleh swearing in new members of the appointed Shura Council, Yemen's upper house of parliament, in an apparent effort to demonstrate he was still in charge.
Last week he offered a new constitution giving more powers to parliament, as well as announcing an array of handouts. But he rejected opposition plans for a phased transition of power this year, even as he hemorrhaged support.
Yemen under Saleh has failed to meet basic needs of its 23 million people. Unemployment is around 35 percent but 50 percent for young people. Oil wealth is dwindling, water is running out and more than two-fifths of Yemenis live in poverty.