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Yemen's ruling party reviewing opposition 'plan', official says

From Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
Yemeni protesters demonstrate against President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a massive anti-regime rally in Sanaa on Wednesday.
Yemeni protesters demonstrate against President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a massive anti-regime rally in Sanaa on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The governing party is receiving the opposition's five points "positively," an official says
  • Yemen's government says it's in dialogue with the opposition
  • The opposition denies it
  • Yemen protesters are demanding the president step down
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(CNN) -- An opposition plan calling for an investigation into violence against protesters in Yemen and the departure of the president was being reviewed by the ruling party, a government official said, and was "being received positively" so far.

The government official, who asked not to be named, told CNN late Wednesday the plan was being "reviewed by the GPC (Ruling Party) leadership committee."

The official's comments came as the ruling party claimed that it is continuing a dialogue with the opposition -- but the opposition denied it.

"We will not have any dialogue with the ruling party. Our only demand is that this regime leaves and then we can talk about dialogue," said opposition bloc spokesman Mohammed Al-Qubati.

The two sides both said that the opposition delivered a list of five points to the ruling party via a committee of Islamic scholars, but did not agree on whether it was a "plan," as the government says, or "advice for the ruling party," as the opposition says.

Opponents of Yemen's long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been demonstrating against him since the beginning of the year, part of the wave of popular protests that has been crashing over the Arab world.

Saleh's party says the opposition "points" include a demand for an investigation into who was responsible for violence against protesters, and prosecutions, plus compensation for the victims' families.

They also want Saleh to step down and transfer power peacefully by the end of the year, according to the official.

Saleh caused a stir Tuesday when he said in a public address that "there is a control room working for the media and you know where it is -- in Tel Aviv. These events are managed by the White House." The comments referring to Washington were later edited out of a rebroadcast of his speech.

Saleh called the White House on Wednesday "to convey his regret for misunderstandings related to his public remarks that Israel and the United States have engaged in destabilizing activities in Arab countries," a White House statement said.

In the call to John Brennan, U.S. President Barack Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, Saleh also said that he is "firmly committed to meaningful political reform in Yemen and that he is reaching out to opposition elements in an effort to achieve reform through a democratic, inclusive, and peaceful process."

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley rejected Saleh's remarks before the Yemeni leader retracted them.

"The protests in Yemen are not the product of external conspiracies," Crowley said on Twitter. "President Saleh knows better. His people deserve a better response."

Saleh's stinging comments came as a powerful cleric -- labeled a terrorist by the United States -- joined the ranks of the Yemeni protesters Tuesday, leading them in prayer and telling them to stick to their demands.

It marked the first time a radical Islamic voice had joined those calling for democracy.

Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a provocative cleric with a flaming red beard, was accused by Washington in 2004 of supplying weapons to al Qaeda.

Last year, al-Zindani made a public plea to recruit millions of young men to fight jihad against Israel.

But in Yemen, al-Zindani is a free and influential man and his support of the demonstrations could prove key.

Saleh also fired the governors of five of the nation's provinces, where anti-government protests have been raging for several weeks. All five were appointed to other positions, according to a decree released Tuesday.

The protests continued Tuesday as thousands gathered outside Sanaa University in the capital. Even members of Saleh's powerful tribal group were among the protesters calling for an end to the president's rule.

In a counterdemonstration, thousands of government loyalists descended on Sanaa's Tahrir Square.

Opposition to Saleh has solidified in the wake of violent confrontations between security forces and protesters Friday in Sanaa, Aden and elsewhere.

Four people were killed and 26 were wounded in the clashes, according to medical officials. Amnesty International said it had reports that 11 people died in Friday's protests, bringing the overall death toll since protests began to 27.

Saleh, in power since 1978, has already said he will not seek re-election but his attempts to form a unity government have run into roadblocks. The country's main opposition bloc rejected Saleh's call for calm until elections to replace him are held. The bloc said its goal is simply "the fall of the regime."

The nation has been battling al Qaeda as well as a Shiite uprising and secessionist movement. High unemployment, lack of political freedoms and government corruption have also stoked Yemeni anger.

CNN's Gena Somra and journalist Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.

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