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Sun 27 Mar 2011 04:54 PM

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Yemen's Saleh says nation is 'time bomb' nearing civil war

Yemen may split into four sections if the unrest doesn't end, country's president warns

Yemen's Saleh says nation is 'time bomb' nearing civil war
Yemens President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Getty Images)
Yemen's Saleh says nation is 'time bomb' nearing civil war
Yemen protests

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned his nation faces growing chaos and a civil war that may split the country.

“Yemen is a
time bomb,” Saleh said in an interview with Al Arabiya television,
according to a transcript published by the state-run Saba news agency.
“Everyone will side with his tribe and we will then end up with a
destructive civil war.” Saleh said the country may split into four
sections if the unrest doesn’t end.

The U.S. has
backed Saleh, a key ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, with $300
million a year of military and economic aid. Ben Rhodes, the U.S.
deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said
last week that the country needs “a government that is more responsive”
to its people.

Tens of
thousands of Yemenis gathered for competing rallies in different parts
of the capital, Sana’a, on March 25 as the opposition demanded Saleh’s
immediate departure. The protests, inspired by revolutions that toppled
the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, have gained momentum since March
18 when police and snipers killed 46 protesters in the worst violence
since the unrest began two months ago.

About 83
demonstrators have been killed in Yemen since March 12, Ezzedine el
Asbahy, director of the country’s Human Rights Information Training
Center, said March 25.

 Six Yemeni
soldiers were killed in an al-Qaeda ambush in Ma’rib, Al-Arabiya
reported on Sunday. Yemen’s Defense Ministry on Saturday said on its website
that three suspected Al Qaeda militants were killed in the southern
province of Abyan and six were detained.

Members of the
opposition said today that Saleh was responsible for the breakdown of
recent negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power. One of the main
disagreements is the fate of the president’s relatives, who are in key
government and security positions.

“They want
guarantees of immunity to legal prosecutions,” Mohammed Al Sabri, a
leader in the Joint Meeting Parties, an opposition coalition of six
groups, said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “Even if this is granted
inside Yemen, no one can guarantee they escape it outside Yemen.”

Ali Al Sariri,
a member of the Yemeni Socialist Party, said the president’s comments
indicate he is “not serious about negotiations and agreements” for an
exit.

“Power to Saleh
isn’t just a status. It’s a whole country, with all its riches, at his
disposal and the disposal of his family,” al-Sariri said in an
interview on Sunday.

Saleh “showed
that he cannot absorb the fact that people want change,” lawmaker Zaid
al-Shami, who is also a member of the opposition Islah group, said in
an interview. “This is a catastrophe. His relatives and those around
him do not want him to go because of the privileges and benefits his
presence secures them.”

Sheikh Sinan
Abu Luhoom, leader of Yemen’s largest tribe, said March 24 he supports
the demands of anti-government demonstrators, according to a statement
e-mailed by Yemeni protest groups. Abu Luhoom’s tribe is second in
influence only to Saleh’s own tribe, the Hashid, Yemen’s
second-biggest, which announced its support for the opposition on March
20.

Saleh said he is willing to step down “respectably” and a transfer of power should come peacefully and not through mayhem.

“I have been in
power for 32 years and I want to transfer it to people peacefully, not
with chaos,” Saleh told Al- Arabiya. “Protesters are the minority and
they don’t consist of two percent of the people.”

Saleh told the
broadcaster that he reached no compromise on the timing of his
departure during talks with Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al Qirbi.

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