SAN'A, Yemen - Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi formed a new, 35-member unity government, state media reported Wednesday, a key step in a Western-backed agreement to secure President Ali Abdullah Saleh's exit from power and put an end to months of demonstrations and unrest.
Technocrats dominate the National Reconciliation Government, which is split equally between members of Saleh's party and names put forward by a coalition of opposition parties that includes socialists and Islamists.
But the announcement seemed unlikely to lessen continuing opposition to the power-transfer deal among many demonstrators, who object to its provision for immunity for Saleh and argue that it doesn't fulfill their demands of comprehensive reform.
After months of equivocation, Saleh on Nov. 23 signed the initiative put forward by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, ostensibly handing power to Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution. But while the vice president has already set a February date for early elections, protests have continued unabated, while deadly violence has persisted in many parts of the impoverished country that's teetering on the brink of civil war.
Two senior cabinet officials, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kirbi and Defense Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed Ali, are to remain in their posts. Opposition politicians will head the powerful ministries of information and the interior.
Leading opposition figures have said they will continue to support demonstrations. They have expressed sympathy for protesters' demands.
"All options remain open for the youth, and they should continue guarding the revolution," Hooria Mashhour, the new minister for human rights, wrote on her Twitter account.
In a speech to his party broadcast soon after the cabinet announcement, Saleh, who has held power in Yemen for 33 years, said he remained committed to the Gulf council deal.
After signing the deal in Saudi Arabia, Saleh has returned to Yemen and remained there, and his powerful son and nephews still hold military and intelligence posts. Many in Yemen remain wary of the Salehs' continued presence, arguing that they will obstruct any progress toward transition.
"Even if the faces are changing on the surface, we believe Saleh's regime is still in control behind the scenes," said Faizah al-Sulimani, a youth activist.
The unity government faces numerous challenges in restoring order in the run-up to February's presidential elections. Severe fuel shortages and electricity blackouts have seen much of Yemen grind to a halt, while its already weak economy has edged perilously close to collapse. Unemployment is estimated to exceed 50 percent.
Weeks of clashes between Shiite Muslim rebels and Salafi Islamists have left at least 25 dead in the northern province of Saada, while government forces continue a months-long battle against Islamic extremists who have taken control of many parts of the southern province of Abyan.