Yemen president warns of civil war

Yemen’s president warned on Tuesday that his country would descend into civil war if he is forced to quit and Washington voiced concern about instability in the Arabian state where al-Qaeda has a stronghold.

Unrelenting anti-government protests, which first began on February 3, and fresh defections among the ruling elite have added to the pressure on Ali Abdullah Saleh, a United States ally against radical Islamists, to step down immediately after 32 years in power.

But an aide said the president would leave office only after organising parliamentary polls by January 2012 and he refused to hand over power without knowing who would succeed him.

“President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he will hand over power through [parliamentary] elections and the formation of democratic institutions at the end of 2011 or January 2012,” Saleh’s media secretary, Ahmed al-Sufi, told Reuters.

“Ali Abdullah Saleh does not seek power. Ali Abdullah Saleh will not leave without knowing who he is handing over to.”

Rare public alarm
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates voiced rare public alarm about the situation in Yemen: “We are obviously concerned about the instability in Yemen.” He added that he was mainly anxious to avoid “diversion of attention” from opposing al-Qaeda there.

The opposition movement swiftly rejected Saleh’s offer to stay until January 2012. The coming hours would be “decisive”, Mohammed al-Sabry, a key opposition spokesperson, said.

In speeches to army officers and tribal leaders in Sana’a, Saleh said Yemen would face civil war and disintegration because of efforts to stage what he called a “coup” against his rule.

“You have an agenda to tear down the country, the country will be divided into three instead of two halfs. A southern part, northern part and a middle part. This is what is being sought by defectors against the unity,” he said, referring to northern Shi’ite rebels and al-Qaeda militants.

“Those who want to climb up to power through coups should know that this is out of the question. The homeland will not be stable, there will be a civil war, a bloody war. They should carefully consider this,” Saleh told army commanders.—Reuters

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