An influential ally of President Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned from the ruling party on Friday, in another political blow to the embattled leader as mass protests sweep across the country demanding an end to his 32-year rule.
Ali Ahmad al-Omrani, a tribal sheikh from the southern al-Baida province, told tens of thousands of protesters at a late night rally in front of Sanaa University that he would resign from Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party (GPC).
Saleh, a U.S. ally against al Qaeda, is struggling to quell protests whose numbers have swelled in recent days. Protesters say they are frustrated with widespread corruption and soaring unemployment in a country where 40 percent of the 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger.
Omrani’s resignation comes a week after nine parliament members from the GPC resigned in protest of the use violence against anti-government demonstrations, in which at least 24 people have died.
Yemen was teetering on the brink of failed statehood even before recent protests, with Saleh struggling to cement a truce with Shi’ite rebels in the north and quell a budding secessionist rebellion in the south.
Opposition officials said on Friday Saleh had rejected a transition plan to democracy that included reforms to the electoral system and the president leaving power by the end of 2011. Saleh has instead offered to resign when his term ends in 2013 and adopt a less-ambitious political reform package.