Yemen president warns of civil war

Yemen president warns of civil war

An anti-government protester and her daughter shelter under an umbrella to avoid the sun during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana’a, on Monday. AP

Unrelenting anti-government protests, which first began on February 3, and fresh defections among the ruling elite have added to the pressure on Saleh, a US 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 said.

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

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates voiced rare public alarm about the situation: “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 spokesman, 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.

Western countries fear the political crisis could hasten a slide into failed nation status for a country that borders the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and major shipping routes. One scenario could see the country split into separate zones along tribal, military or regional lines.