, , , , , , ,

SANA, Yemen — President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Thursday proposed giving more power to Parliament in an attempt to quell growing challenges to his 32-year-old rule, but even he said he doubted the opposition would accept the offer.

Antigovernment demonstrators have been demanding that Mr. Saleh step down immediately and have rejected a string of concessions for fear that the president, a canny political survivor, would find a way to undo any changes once the streets were quiet.

The announcement Thursday was characteristically vague. It was unclear how much power Mr. Saleh would allow to be shifted to the Parliament and the prime minister.

Although the Parliament is an elected body, Mr. Saleh has almost a complete lock on power and sometimes ignores laws it passes. If he were to transfer significant power, it would be one of his biggest concessions yet.

The mainstream political opposition did not issue an immediate official reaction and called a meeting Thursday night to decide how to respond. But one opposition leader, Mohammed al-Sabri, said in an interview before the gathering that the proposal came “too late” and that “the people will not accept this initiative.”

The opposition has generally been more open to compromise with the president than protesters in the streets who are heady with the success of demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt in overthrowing long-serving autocrats. Thousands of demonstrators have been staging sit-ins here and in other cities throughout the country.

Mr. Saleh is a strong American ally in the fight against terrorism, and the American Embassy in Sana has not wavered from its stance encouraging dialogue between the protesters and the president — a recommendation the demonstrators have so far refused.

The United States has been worried about Mr. Saleh’s hold on power.

Hafez Al-Bukari, a political analyst, said that he thought Mr. Saleh’s latest offer was significant, but too late.

“If these concession were proposed about one month ago they might have had a big effect,” he said. “But now the protests are growing in power.”

He also said that since Mr. Saleh expected his plan to be rejected, he might have seen the offer as a way to appear conciliatory — especially by West leaders — without having to make any dramatic changes. Mr. Bukari also said the president might have been trying to fracture the opposition. In recent days, the mainstream opposition has been moving closer to the protesters’ uncompromising stance.

Mr. Saleh’s proposal would set up a national committee, including legislators, who would draw up a new Constitution that would pass more powers to the Parliament. That would include allowing legislators to name Cabinet members, according to a government statement issued after the speech.

Once the constitution was drawn up, it would go to a referendum and the changes could begin this year, the statement said.

Mr. Saleh has been rolling out concessions for weeks — including that he would step down in 2013 — but his government has also cracked down on protesters, killing about 30, according to human rights activists and witnesses.

Pressure has been steadily growing on him to step down, with 16 members of Parliament resigning from the ruling party, an influential tribal sheik abandoning him and the numbers of protesters growing.

In his speech Thursday, Mr. Saleh called for protesters to remain peaceful, and said that the youths protesting were “the youth of the future” and “the youth of the nation.”

The audience of supporters from across the country, gathered in a stadium here, chanted “the people want Ali Abdullah Saleh” and “we will sacrifice our blood and souls for Ali.”