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Yemen President offers to step down by year-end

Source: PTI
Last updated on: March 22, 2011 19:32 IST
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Hit by desertions by top generals and tribal chiefs' Yemen's beleaguered President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday offered to step down by yearend as part of a "constitutional transfer" of power, but refused to hand over power to military.

As his 32-year-old regime continued to be shaken by more military and political defections, Saleh warned that a coup in the country could trigger a civil war, as international pressure also grew on him to bow out.

"I don't wish and will not accept the transfer of power to the military," Saleh, 65, said in a nationally televised broadcast, Al Jazeera reported.

His address came, a day after two soldiers died in clashes between Yemen's regular army and the elite Republican Guard, loyal to the embattled president in the south-eastern city Mukala. "Any division in the armed forces would have a negative impact on the country," the president said in an apparent olive branch to his top commanders, who have deserted him to join the opposition.

Saleh described as "mutiny" the defections of military commanders, including his longtime confidante Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. He accused the generals of attempting a "coup" against constitutional and told them, that the "era of coups is gone."

The president who has enjoyed an uninterrupted stint in power since 1978 appeared to be shaky and could be looking for ways to go in exile, Al Jazeera said, quoting top Yemeni officers. The situation in the country in the war-ravaged country is already tense with a Shia revolt in the north and stepping up of activity by Al Qaeda in the south and the rift in the army has added a new alarming dimension.

The tanks and armoured vehicles of General Ali Mohsen's powerful first armoured division are deployed at the defence ministry, the TV building, the Central Bank and the Sanaa Square, which has become an epicenter for protesters.

The rival deployments, Al Jazeera said had "created a potentially explosive situation in the city in the backdrop of flurry of resignations by army commanders, lawmakers, minister ambassadors and provincial governors, who have asked the president to step down.

France became the first western power to call publicly Saleh to step down as the Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described his departure as "unavoidable". But attention is focused on the US and Saudi Arabia two key allies who see Yemen as a bulwark against a resurgent Al Qaeda in West Asia and by proxy are propping up Saleh.

Ramping up pressure on Saleh, the country's envoys to several countries, including Pakistan and Spain, have declared their "total support" to protests against his 32-year rule, close on the heels of top Generals and tribal chiefs joining the mass uprising.

"After our long waiting for our homeland's voice and interest to win, we declare our total support to the Yemeni youth protesting against the regime and their demands for ouster of Saleh," said a statement jointly signed by Yemen's ambassadors to Pakistan, Qatar, Oman and Spain as well as its consul in Dubai. They decided to support the protesters after developments have reached this turn, which threatens Yemen, its unity and its people's security, the Gulf News daily reported on Tuesday quoting the statement.

"We urge the rulers of the country and the wise people in the army, public institutions, thinkers and scholars to make the interest of the country and its people prevail over their personal and family interests," the statement said, backing the "demands for freedom and dignity" in Yemen.

Yemen's ambassadors to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, China and Japan and its representative to the Arab League had earlier on Monday announced their support for ongoing public protests back home, the paper said.

Several military commanders and tribal chiefs in Yemen have already announced their support for pro-democracy protesters, Al Jazeera said.

The developments led to tanks being deployed on the streets of the capital Sanaa and prompted the Yemeni Defence Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed to declare that the army still backed the president. "The armed forces will stay faithful to the oath they gave before God, the nation and political leadership under the brother President Ali Abdullah Saleh," Ahmed was quoted as saying by the Arab channel.
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