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Fri 25 Mar 2011 02:54 PM

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Yemeni president says prepared to hand over power

Ali Abdullah Saleh tells thousands of supporters in Sanaa that he wants to prevent bloodshed

Yemeni president says prepared to hand over power
Yemens President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Getty Images)

President Ali Abdullah Saleh

said on Friday he was ready to cede power to prevent more

bloodshed in Yemen but only to what he called "safe hands" as a

massive Day of Departure street protest against him began.

Western countries are alarmed that al Qaeda militants

entrenched in the Arabian Peninsula country could exploit any

chaos arising from a messy transition of power if Saleh, a

pivotal US and Saudi ally fighting for his political life,

finally steps down after 32 years in office.

"We don't want power, but we need to hand power over to safe

hands, not to sick, resentful or corrupt hands," Saleh said in a

rousing speech to supporters shown on state television as tens

of thousands of his foes rallied elsewhere in the capital Sanaa.

Thousands of Saleh supporters in Sanaa were also out early

on the streets for what they dubbed the "Friday of Tolerance",

with banners saying "No to chaos, yes to security and

stability." Some were carrying guns and traditional Yemeni

daggers, others were wavings flags and playing patriotic songs.

"We are ready to leave power but only for safe hands," Saleh

said. "We are against firing a single bullet and when we give

concessions this is to ensure there is no bloodshed. We will

remain steadfast and challenge them with all power we have."

Protesters encamped in their thousands outside Sanaa

University for six weeks declared Friday a Day of Departure

when they hoped to bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets

in a further attempt to oust Saleh, a serial survivor of civil

war, separatist movements and militant attacks.

Similar mass protests on March 18 left 52 people dead,

apparently gunned down by plainclothes snipers. That bloodshed

prompted a string of generals, diplomats and tribal leaders to

abandon Saleh, severely weakening his position.

"The government cannot just shoot its way out of this

crisis," Philip Luther, Amnesty's Deputy Director for the Middle

East and North Africa, said in a statement. "Whether in uniform

or in plainclothes, security forces must be immediately stopped

from using live ammunition on unarmed protesters."

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Saleh and

top general Ali Mohsen - the most significant of this week's

defectors - were hashing out a deal whereby both men resign

within days to allow a civilian transitional government.

A spokesman for Saleh denied the report but said Saleh had

held a meeting over the past 48 hours with the general. "Ali

Mohsen clarified why he did what he did and requested assurances

that nothing would happen against him," Ahmed al-Sufi said.

Saleh was defiant in a speech on Thursday, offering only an

amnesty to defecting troops at a meeting with commanders.

Soldiers loyal to Mohsen fired in the air later on Friday to

prevent a crowd of Saleh supporters from reaching the

anti-government protest where tens of thousands were rallying.

Security was tight, as the army conducted five separate

checks on people entering the zone on Friday morning.

Positions have hardened since last Friday's bloodshed.

"I came here to get rid of this butcher because he killed

our comrades," said Abdullah Jabali, 33, a student, who said he

did not believe Saleh's promises to stand down within a year.

"I just want this president and his family to leave

peacefully, not to leave the country but to step down," said

Mahdi Mohammed, 36, a translator from Aden.

Shortly before Saleh spoke, mosque preacher Tawhib al-Doba'i

praised protesters for keeping up the pressure.

"You have achieved so much in Taghyeer (Change) Square.

God's wisdom was that the people of Yemen should stay in the

street for weeks, for dignity to take the place of humiliation,"

he told worshippers outside Sanaa University.

Saleh, who oversaw the 1990 unification of north and south

Yemen and emerged victorious from a civil war four years later,

has shown no signs publicly of being prepared to quit now.

He has offered a string of concessions, all rejected by

opposition parties, including this week to hold presidential

elections by January 2012. He has also warned military officers

who have turned against him not to plot a coup.

Washington and Riyadh, Yemen's main financial backer, have

long seen Saleh as a bulwark against al Qaeda in the Arabian

Peninsula (AQAP), which has tried to stage attacks beyond Yemeni

soil since 2009 in both Saudi Arabia and United States.

"The chaos of a post-Saleh Yemen in which there is no

managed transition may lead to conditions that could allow AQAP

and other extremist elements to flourish," analyst Christopher

Boucek said in a forthcoming issue of the militant affairs

periodical CTC Sentinel.

Yemen lies on key shipping routes and borders the world's

leading oil exporter Saudi Arabia. It has often seemed to be on

the brink of disintegration: Northern Shi'ites often taken up

arms against Saleh and southerners dream of a separate state.

With no clear successor in line and with conflicts gripping

northern and southern Yemen, the country of 23 million faces the

risk of a breakup, in addition to poverty, a water shortage,

dwindling oil reserves and lack of central government control.

Ali Saleh 8 years ago

Saleh has been in power for 33 years now. It is a failed Presidency. Poor educational system, No infrastructure, Kleptocracy, No judicial system and continous conflict between the tribes. He needs to go peacfully, he has nothing to offer to Yemen, otherwise Chaos will reign and AQAP thugs who have nothing to offer themselves other the killing of innocent civilians and the promise of 7th century caliphate rule will try to take advantage of the situation. It is a fertile environemt because of unemployment, poor educational system and the sense of Hopelessness. Saleh this not about your ego or gamenship, it is about the country. Remember what happened to Mubarak and Ben Ali.