Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh delivered a fiery speech Tuesday blaming Israel and the United States for destabilizing the Arab world, saying the anti-government protests in his capital were being run by the White House.
Saleh's accusations marked a departure for the president, a longtime ally of the United States in the war against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid in recent years.
"Every day we hear a statement from (President Barack) Obama saying, 'Egypt you can't do this, Tunisia don't do that,'" Saleh told students and professors at Sanaa University. "What do you have to do with Egypt? Or with Oman? Are you president of the United States or president of the world?"
White House press secretary Jay Carney rebuked Saleh's criticism, saying he should focus on political reforms in his country.
"We don't think scapegoating will be the kind of response that the people of Yemen or the people in other countries will find adequate," Carney said.
The remarks coincided with an anti-government protest that drew about 10,000 to the streets of Sanaa, the capital, where an influential cleric, Sheik Abdul Majeed Zindani, called for the people of Yemen to replace the government with an Islamic state, raising both cheers and concerns from the assembled crowd representing a diverse cross section of the country.
Zindani, a cleric with a henna-dyed beard whom the U.S. considers a terrorist, was a spiritual mentor to Osama bin Laden but has publicly rejected terrorism. He called on Saleh to grant the protesters' "legitimate demands and rights."
The events in Yemen developed as unrest and political change continued to grip much of North Africa and the Middle East, from Libya to the Arabian Sea.
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In Oman, Yemen's neighbor to the east, protests continued for a fourth day. The government deployed tanks to quash protesters seeking jobs and constitutional reform in the industrial city of Sohar where the unrest began. Tanks were used on the road to the capital, Muscat, but the protests dispersed peacefully, residents said.
In Iran, clashes erupted between security forces and opposition supporters in Tehran at a rally calling for the release of Iranian opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, witnesses and media reports said. Security forces used tear gas on demonstrators, detained dozens and chased others, a witness said.
The witness, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, added that dozens of protesters were seen chanting anti-government slogans, comparing some Iranian authority figures with the deposed Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Political changes in Tunisia reportedly included the legalization of an Islamic party, the Ennahdha party, that had been banned for more than 20 years because the government considered it a terrorist group.
In Yemen, hundreds of thousands of protesters opposed to Saleh reportedly marched in numerous cities. In Sanaa, the so-called "day of rage," transformed into a day of jubilation.
Men, women and children gathered in the blocked-off intersection in the morning, and spent the rest of the day munching on corn on the cob, painting each other's faces with Yemen's tricolor flag, and taking turns excoriating Saleh over a cracking loudspeaker.
Zindani's appearance at the rally was important because he is a well-known head of Iman University, an ultraconservative Islamist institution in Sanaa, and a co-founder of Yemen's Islamic Brotherhood, the largest opposition party in Yemen. Although he has been a supporter of Saleh for many years, he is the latest of several leaders to defect from the embattled president. At one point, he joined in with protesters chanting, "Leave, leave, leave!"
Zindani's words to the crowd ignited shouts of "Amen!" from some men while others shifted uncomfortably, worried that he would cast Yemen's pro-democracy protesters in a radical light to the outside world.
"They're going to think we're all terrorists," said Yahya Ali Ali, a student. "Not all of us have this opinion."
"We want a democracy, not a caliphate," said Sadeq Fahd, 22, a graduate of Sanaa University. "We want to join the modern world as free people."
The rally came a day after key opposition figures refused Saleh's offer to form a "unity government." The offer, which was widely considered the president's last-ditch effort at reconciliation, promised to include opposition leaders as well as members of ruling party. Saleh also promised "intensifying anti-corruption investigations" and other political reforms.
Key members of the ruling party, as well as tribal leaders, have distanced themselves from Saleh, calling for an end to harsh government crackdowns on demonstrations. At least 27 people died at protests in the last three weeks, according to Amnesty International.
Leaders of the separatist movement in Yemen's south, as well as Houthi rebels in Yemen's northern provinces, reportedly joined protesters on the street in cities and provinces across Yemen on Tuesday.