Sana'a: A regional bloc of oil-rich Arab nations along the Gulf, including powerful Saudi Arabia, called on Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as part of a deal with the protest movement demanding for his ouster after 32 years of rule.

Keeping up the pressure, tens of thousands of protesters complaining of poverty and corruption continued their demonstrations in the capital.

The statement, by Foreign Ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in the Saudi capital, called on President Saleh to transfer his powers to his vice president.

Saleh himself has so far refused to immediately step down, saying he wants to first be certain that the country is in ‘safe hands,’ suggesting the already fragile and impoverished country could fall into serious tumult without him.

"The transfer of power ought to be in an easy and peaceful manner that would avoid sliding into chaos and violence, and as part of a national consensus," said a final statement from the Gulf council.

The embattled president, once a key US ally in the war against the al-Qaeda terror network, has tried to cling to power despite two months of near-daily protests calling for his resignation.

Last week, he rejected an earlier mediation offer by the Gulf Cooperation Council, saying the group was interfering in Yemen's affairs. The council had invited Saleh and Yemen's opposition groups to Saudi Arabia for talks on its proposal, similar to the one it endorsed on Sunday.

(Agencies)