Yemen's Saleh says he will step down

Updated: 2011-10-09 08:53


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SANAA - Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Saturday he would step down in "the coming days" after months of protests against his 33-year rule that risked tipping the country into civil war, but the government said his exit was not imminent.

"I reject power and I will continue to reject it, and I will be leaving power in the coming days," Saleh said in a speech on state television.

Opponents were sceptical of the political survivor who has backed out of a Gulf-brokered power transition plan three times this year.

They argue the speech is a manoeuvre to ease pressure ahead of a briefing to the UN Security Council by UN Yemen envoy Jamal Benomar, who left Sanaa empty-handed after days of shuttle diplomacy between the opposition and the ruling party.

Protests against Saleh's rule paralysed Yemen, weakening government control over swathes of the country and fanning fears al Qaeda's regional wing may use the upheaval to expand its foothold near oil-shipping routes through the Red Sea.

Diplomats have said they are close to getting international consensus for issuing a Security Council resolution which may add to pressures on the country to finalise a power transfer.

"This is new propaganda from Saleh before Yemen is discussed at the Security Council," said Mohammed al-Sabri, a spokesman for the opposition's political coalition. "Four months have passed since he said he accepted the Gulf transition deal, so what is stopping him? He doesn't even need a few days to do it."

The veteran leader has been clinging to power while opposition and ruling party representatives cast about for a formula to reach a deal, deadlocked in a debate over whether Saleh should relinquish power before or after an early election.

"The president has always been clear that we are committed to either the GCC initiative or the UN's implementation mechanism that will move us to an early election. He has been clear that he will leave power in that capacity," Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi told Reuters.

"He said this to show his commitment to this plan, but there is no plan for a resignation or transfer of powers before we have agreed and signed a deal. That would just plunge the country into chaos or even war.

"He is ready to leave power in days yes, but whether this happens in the coming days or months will depend on the success of negotiations for a deal."

Saleh made a surprise return in September to Yemen after three months convalescence in Saudi Arabia from a June assassination attempt. Many in the capital, which has been wracked with violence in recent weeks, feared his return might signal a move towards asserting power through military might.

"I call on my supporters to persevere and to confront any challenges," Saleh said, in his first television appearance with his head uncovered since the bomb attack on his compound.

He also wore thick tan gloves, probably to cover skin grafts he had for severe burns he suffered in the explosion.

Abdulghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst, said: "This is just Saleh's latest line. I don't think it is really anything new. I remember he once before said he would be ready to leave any day, so I don't think he means what he said."

Saleh has made many verbal concessions during the protests against him which began in January, including promising to step down in return for immunity from prosecution.

Frustration with Saleh's intransigence had pushed Yemenis, many of them heavily armed and with experience of wars and insurgencies, closer to a violent power struggle that could give al Qaeda's regional wing more room to operate.

All of these factors spark concern for stability in a country that sits on a shipping lane through which more than three million barrels of oil pass each day.