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Yemen President Pledges Constitutional Referendum

A large portrait of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is seen as supporters gather at a soccer stadium for Saleh to speak in Sanaa March 10, 2011

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has pledged to hold a referendum on a new constitution that would assure parliamentary rule.

Saleh's said in a televised address Thursday that the new constitution would guarantee the separation of legislative and executive powers. He added that the country would hold the referendum later this year.

The president's pledge fulfills a key demand of anti-government protesters, who are demanding greater participation in a government largely led by Saleh's closest allies. Activists say they are frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment, which is at 35 percent or higher.

Demonstrators, outraged by a government raid Tuesday that killed one person and wounded several others, camped out Wednesday around Sana'a University. They pledged to continue their sit-in until they topple the president's 32-year rule.

Protests in the Yemeni capital have remained relatively peaceful since Saleh said security forces would protect the demonstrators. Tuesday's episode was the first time uniformed officers have used live ammunition since the protests began nearly a month ago. Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators have assembled outside the university, and the number of protesters appears to increase each day.

The Sana'a demonstrations have become more diversified as they have grown in size. Students and unemployed young people initially dominated the rallies, but now people from all segments of Yemeni society have joined in. Tribesmen from Yemen’s north have come to the capital to add their voices to those calling for Saleh to leave office.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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