Sanaa: The beleaguered leader of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday outrightly dismissed demands to step down, saying widespread protests against his regime unacceptable acts of provocation.

However, the US-backed President, who is in power for three decades, offered to begin a dialogue with the protesters.

The proposal was hastily rejected as an insincere one by an opposition spokesman. Rejecting the President’s proposal, an influential group of Muslim clerics called for the establishment of a national unity government until elections can be held.

In another attempt to defuse anger, Saleh in a news conference said that he has ordered troops not to fire at anti-government protesters, except in self-defense.

Saleh is cooperating with the US in efforts to battle an al-Qaeda franchise that has taken root in Yemen, but his government exercises limited control in the tribal areas beyond the capital. The US gives Yemen military aid and training.

Protest part of unrest

At least 11 people have been killed since protests erupted earlier this month, including a youth shot dead on Tuesday, medical officials said.

The demonstrations in Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, are part of a wave of unrest that have swept across the Arab world in recent weeks and toppled autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.