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Yemen's Saleh agrees to step down; elections set in 90 days

SANAA — Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Wednesday signed a plan under which he will step down from the preidency in 30 days, Yemeni state TV reported.

Leading members of Yemen's opposition traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to witness Saleh's signing of the agreement, include Hooria Mashour, spokeswoman for the opposition council.

The agreement won praise from most of the opponents, but there was no move in Sanaa to dismantle the vast tent city that has been the center of anti-Saleh ferment for more than nine months. And while most opposition figures hailed the agreement, some activistis called for a march Thursday to protest the agreement's granting of amnesty to Saleh for the deaths of hundreds of protesters who were shot by government forces in the early days of the protests.

The agreement, known as the GCC Initiative, was brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Councl (GCC) and pushed by the United States, which has urged Saleh to resign for months. Saleh’s travel to Saudi Arabia for the signing came after days of tense negotiations mediated by Jamal ben Omar, the United nation's special envoy to Yemen.

Under the agreement, Saleh will formally step down in 30 days, with elections to be held within 90 days. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Saleh, who was gravely wounded in a June 2 assassination attempt, will travel to New York for further medical treatment after the Riyadh signing ceremony.

Months of political uncertainty have paralyzed this already impoverished nation’s economy, while political and military defections have severely weakened the central government’s hold over much of the country.

Yet Saleh refused to relinquish power, even after the bombing forced him to seek medical care in Saudi Arabia for months. Few here were surpised, however, that Saleh finally signed the deal, even though he had refused to put his signature on the document on at least three other occasions.

“It’s hard to imagine that Saleh will not sign,” Abdulghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst, said before the signing ceremony. “If he backs down now, he’ll have to answer to the Saudis.”