Yemen's entrenched President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Wednesday he would not allow his country to be dragged into civil war despite clashes with the leader of a powerful tribal confederation who has sided with protesters seeking his ouster.

"Yemen, I hope, will not be a failed state or another Somalia. The people are still keen for a peaceful transition of power," he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

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"What happened was a provocative act to drag us into civil war, but it is limited to the Ahmar sons. They bear responsibility for shedding the blood of innocent civilians. Until this second, they are attacking the interior ministry. But we don't want to widen the confrontation," Saleh told selected media, referring to Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar's family who has long been opposed to government of South Yemen and was allegedly leading recent clashes.

Despite Saleh's pledge that "violence will be eliminated and the economy will be rebuilt," clashes on Wednesday saw at least 38 deaths in violent clashes between rebels associated with Sheikh Ahamar and government forces in the northern area of Sana'a, Arabic-language news channel Al-Arabiya reported.

A medical source said 24 rebels had been killed and dozens more injured, while the Interior Ministry told news agencies that 14 soldiers had been killed in the clashes, and that two others were missing.

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International pressure has urged Saleh to step down, with Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague continued the call on Wednesday, saying the Yemeni president should sign a transition of power deal "as soon as possible".

Saleh has pledged that he would be willing sign such a deal within the framework of dialogue, but said he was not willing to allow those that threaten national security take control.

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