Yemen president says ready to leave power 'with dignity'

Reports suggest that Saleh may step down "within hours"; Saleh denies that deal on power transfer expected.

By REUTERS
March 26, 2011 18:46
2 minute read.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh 311 Reu. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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DUBAI - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he would be prepared to leave power "with dignity" even within hours, Al Arabiya television reported on Saturday.

Saleh, however, denied that a deal on power transfer was expected on Saturday, Al Arabiya said, citing remarks made by the Yemeni leader in an interview with the television channel.

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Saleh also said that the opposition had raised its demands after he launched a power transfer initiative, Al Arabiya said.

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 Qaida 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.

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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."

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