Yemen Is ‘Time Bomb’ Nearing Tribal Civil War, Four-Way Split, Saleh Says
By Vivian Salama - Mar 27, 2011
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned his nation faces growing chaos and a civil war that may split the country.
“Yemen is a time bomb,” Saleh said in an interview with Al Arabiya television, according to a transcript published by the state-run Saba news agency. “Everyone will side with his tribe and we will then end up with a destructive civil war.” Saleh said the country may split into four sections if the unrest doesn’t end.
The U.S. has backed Saleh, a key ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, with $300 million a year of military and economic aid. Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said last week that the country needs “a government that is more responsive” to its people.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered for competing rallies in different parts of the capital, Sana’a, on March 25 as the opposition demanded Saleh’s immediate departure. The protests, inspired by revolutions that toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, have gained momentum since March 18 when police and snipers killed 46 protesters in the worst violence since the unrest began two months ago.
About 83 demonstrators have been killed in Yemen since March 12, Ezzedine el Asbahy, director of the country’s Human Rights Information Training Center, said March 25.
Six Yemeni soldiers were killed in an al-Qaeda ambush in Ma’rib, Al-Arabiya reported today. Yemen’s Defense Ministry yesterday said on its website that three suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed in the southern province of Abyan and six were detained.
Members of the opposition said today that Saleh was responsible for the breakdown of recent negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power. One of the main disagreements is the fate of the president’s relatives, who are in key government and security positions.
“They want guarantees of immunity to legal prosecutions,” Mohammed al-Sabri, a leader in the Joint Meeting Parties, an opposition coalition of six groups, said in a telephone interview today. “Even if this is granted inside Yemen, no one can guarantee they escape it outside Yemen.”
Ali al-Sariri, a member of the Yemeni Socialist Party, said the president’s comments indicate he is “not serious about negotiations and agreements” for an exit.
“Power to Saleh isn’t just a status. It’s a whole country, with all its riches, at his disposal and the disposal of his family,” al-Sariri said in an interview today.
Saleh “showed that he cannot absorb the fact that people want change,” lawmaker Zaid al-Shami, who is also a member of the opposition Islah group, said in an interview. “This is a catastrophe. His relatives and those around him do not want him to go because of the privileges and benefits his presence secures them.”
Sheikh Sinan Abu Luhoom, leader of Yemen’s largest tribe, said March 24 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, Yemen’s second-biggest, which announced its support for the opposition on March 20.
Saleh said he is willing to step down “respectably” and a transfer of power should come peacefully and not through mayhem.
“I have been in power for 32 years and I want to transfer it to people peacefully, not with chaos,” Saleh told Al- Arabiya. “Protesters are the minority and they don’t consist of two percent of the people.”
Saleh told the broadcaster that he reached no compromise on the timing of his departure during talks with Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi.