President holds on; militants may expand reach
By Ahmed Al-Haj
Mar 27, 2011
SANA, Yemen- Allies of Yemen’s president and his political opponents failed to make progress yesterday in talks on a possible exit for the man who has led the nation through 32 years of growing poverty and conflict and whose rule is now deeply imperiled by a popular uprising.
As the political turmoil deepened, there were signs that Islamic militants in the remote reaches of Yemen were seeking to make gains on the situation. Residents and witnesses in Jaar said suspected Al Qaeda militants moved from the mountains yesterday to seize control there a few weeks after police fled.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh asserted in a TV interview that without him, the country would be at grave risk of breaking apart.
“Yemen is a ticking bomb and if the political system collapses and there’s no constructive dialogue there will be a long civil war that will be difficult to end,’’ he told the Al-Arabiya network.
Officials on both sides of yesterday’s talks, which were attended by the US ambassador, said the parties refused to give any ground.
After six weeks of unprecedented protests in Yemen, Saleh says he is willing to step aside in a peaceful transition of power, but has left himself room for maneuvering by adding the condition that he wants to leave the country in “safe hands.’’
In the TV interview, he insisted he would not leave the presidency “humiliated’’ and that even if he stepped down as president, he would remain head of his Congress Party, leaving the door open for his continued involvement in the nation’s politics.
“I will not give up on my supporters,’’ he said.
The protesters — whose ranks have been bolstered by defecting military commanders, lawmakers, Cabinet ministers, diplomats, and even Saleh’s own tribe — are insisting he go immediately. The demands and defections have only grown since government security forces shot more than 40 demonstrators to death in the capital of Sana a week ago.
Yesterday, Saleh’s vice president and political adviser met with the US ambassador and tribal and military leaders who joined the opposition, said Saleh spokesman Ahmed al-Sufi.
Among the military leaders was Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who has deployed tanks in downtown Sana to protect protesters. Ahmar is the most powerful man to emerge as a possible successor to Saleh.
Sufi said ruling party officials were prepared to discuss a possible transition of power, but that the opposition demanded Saleh’s immediate resignation and a ban on future government positions for him and his family.
“These demands are impossible to accept,’’ Sufi said. “What is clear is that the president wants an honorable transfer of power according to the constitution and through elections.’’
Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri confirmed the meeting’s details and accused Saleh of stalling. The US Embassy in Sana declined to comment.
The United States holds a large stake in Yemen’s future. It considers Saleh a key ally against an active Al Qaeda branch that calls Yemen home.
Yesterday, residents of Jaar said men believed to be Al Qaeda militants took control of the town.
During the antigovernment protests, security forces have either withdrawn or been forced out by residents of some towns.
But the takeover of Jaar was a sign that militant groups could be using the uncertain situation to expand their reach.
Source: Associated Press