Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he would offer no more concessions to his opponents and warned that his nation faces chaos, as a senior military official and former ally of the embattled leader called for him to step down.
“Yemen is a time bomb,” Saleh said in an interview with Al Arabiya television, according to a transcript published yesterday by the state-run Saba news agency. “Everyone will side with his tribe, and we will then end up with a destructive civil war.”
Dozens of lawmakers, as well as senior military officers, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and tribal leaders have abandoned Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress since March 18, when police and snipers killed 46 protesters in the capital, Sana’a, in the worst violence since the unrest began two months ago. Saleh has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic militant groups in the region including al-Qaeda.
In a speech delivered yesterday via a spokesman to thousands of protesters in Sana’a, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the commander of Yemen’s First Armored Division, said Saleh should respect the demands of the people and “step down from the presidency peacefully.”
End of Concessions
Al-Ahmar’s speech, in which he vowed to support the “peaceful youth revolution, whatever the cost will be,” came after the ruling party agreed that Saleh would stay in power until the end of his term in 2013, according to a statement published on its website.
Since the protests began more than two months ago, Saleh has tried to placate demonstrators with concessions ranging from a proposed national unity government to promises that neither he nor his son will seek office after 2013.
The Yemeni president said yesterday in a speech to the party’s standing committee that there would be “no more concessions from now on,” Saba reported.
The speech shows “he is out of touch with reality and he’s going to fight to maintain power,” said Theodore Karasik, director at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East & Gulf Analysis. “That’s dangerous. He could use more violence to achieve his goals since concessions didn’t seem to work for him.”
Saleh dismissed Mohammed Ali Mohsen, a military commander for the country’s eastern region, a week after he defected in support of protesters, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website today.
Saleh’s son-in-law, Yehia Mohammed Ahmed Ismail, also defected today.
“From this stage, I declare my joining and support to the youth of the revolution,” he told a rally in the Tagheer Square in the capital Sana’a.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that he sees the possible fall of Saleh as a “real problem.” The U.S. has aided the government’s fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group responsible for sending two parcel bombs to U.S. synagogues in October and the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound plane on Dec. 25, 2009.
The situation in Yemen is “worrying,” U.K. Defense Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday, “not just because of the imminent collapse of the regime there, but because we know that al-Qaeda have been particularly active in Yemen.”
Yemen’s central government “has lost control of a number of areas, including Aljouf, Saada and parts of Ma’rib,” Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University in New Jersey, said by telephone. “As the stalemate continues, the Yemeni government doesn’t have the ability to take on the battle against al-Qaeda and they then may be able to raise money and get weapons. That is the big fear.”
Seven Yemeni soldiers were killed in an ambush in Ma’rib, Saba reported today. In the southern governorate of Abyan, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on March 26 on its website that three suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed and six detained. An explosion at a weapons factory today killed at least 80 people, Naser al-Mansri, head of the local council in the Khanfar district of southern Abyan Province, said in a telephone interview.
“The bodies were torn to pieces and charred, which made it difficult to see how many they are,” said al-Mansri.
The government blamed al-Qaeda for the explosion, Saba reported, citing an unidentified official.
Yemen’s air force bombed the town of Ja’ar in the south of the country amid clashes in the surrounding area, Al Jazeera television said.
“Al-Qaeda is making use of the loose security situation caused by the protests,” Ahmed al-Sufi, Yemen’s presidential press secretary, said in a telephone interview yesterday from Sana’a. The group “is encouraged by the obstinate position of the opposition over a peaceful transfer of power.”
Sheikh Sinan Abu Luhoom, leader of Yemen’s largest tribe, said on March 24 that 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, which announced its support for the opposition on March 20.
“I have been in power for 32 years and I want to transfer it to people peacefully, not with chaos,” Saleh told Al Arabiya television in an interview. “Protesters are the minority and they don’t consist of 2 percent of the people.”
Thousands of demonstrators gathered again today in Sana’a to demand Saleh’s departure as a sandstorm enveloped the city.