Sanaa: President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Wednesday Yemen would not become a failed state or be dragged into civil war despite fierce clashes in the capital with tribal gunmen who are trying to force him out of office.
Saleh, who has ruled the fractious Arabian Peninsula state for nearly 33 years, said he remained willing in principle to sign a Gulf-brokered deal to end his rule that he backed out of on Monday. But he would make no further concessions.
“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.
The 69-year-old president has the confidence of a man who has governed one of the most difficult countries in the world. With his eyes alive with pride and his chest puffed out, he said he would not leave Yemen after he stepped down.
Yemeni loyalist forces have fought fierce street battles in Sanaa since Monday with guards from a powerful tribal federation whose leader has sided with protesters demanding an end to Saleh’s rule. The clashes have killed at least 39 people.
The opposition warned that attacks by loyalist forces could spark a civil war, and the violence greatly dimmed prospects for a political solution to a nearly four-month-old revolt inspired by protests that swept aside the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
“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,” Saleh, a dapper crisply-dressed man, told selected media including Reuters earlier.
“Until this second, they are attacking the Interior Ministry. But we don’t want to widen the confrontation,” he said.
The clashes, in the sandbagged streets surrounding the mansion of tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar, erupted after Saleh refused on Sunday at the last minute to sign a Gulf-brokered deal that would ease him out of power within a month.
“We are steadfast. We are bearing the shocks of what the al-Ahmar sons have brought - the attacks on state institutions, the press and the ministry of industry and the ministry of interior.”
“They have chosen this and they made the wrong decision to confront the state with this kind of violence,” he said.
Still Open To Deal
Saleh has backed out of previous deals, but Sunday’s turnabout appeared to be among the most forceful, coming after loyalist gunmen trapped Western and Arab diplomats in the United Arab Emirates embassy for hours.
Saleh said the deal remained on the table. “I am ready to sign within a national dialogue and a clear mechanism. If the mechanism is sound, we will sign the transition of power deal and we will give up power.”
“No more concessions after today,” he said at his heavily-guarded presidential palace, surrounded with aides dressed in dark suits.
Saleh said he had no plans to leave Yemen when he leaves power, and was not afraid of being pursued legally. The Gulf-mediated deal he has resisted signing would grant him immunity from prosecution, ensuring a dignified transition.
“I will stay in Yemen. I will preside over my party and I will be in the opposition,” he said.
“Who will prosecute who? I am a normal citizen. I will transfer power if they (the opposition) come to the table of dialogue peacefully.”
He warned foreign powers not to try to impose their own solution to the Yemeni standoff, and complained that Gulf Cooperation Council leader Abdullatif al-Zayani, who has spearheaded mediation efforts, had not paid him due respect.
“He told me either you sign or you are rejecting the deal. This is not the way you address a head of state,” Saleh said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by a wing of al Qaeda based in Yemen, have been involved in talks to end the crisis and avert a spread of anarchy that could give the global militant network more room to operate.
“I accept a comprehensive initiative and the truth of the matter that everyone should understand is that we do not take foreign orders. This is an internal matter, no one will implement foreign orders.”
He painted a picture of a future prosperous, democratic Yemen, far from the poverty that has left around 40% of the population living on less than $2 a day.
“Violence and terrorism will be eliminated and the economy will be rebuilt. The society will be developed into a democracy. Yemen cannot be a fertile ground or a safe haven for al Qaeda. Yemeni society will not allow that,” he said.