Sanaa, Mar 27: Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he does not want to cling on to power and warned that only dialogue could save the country from sliding into civil war.
“I have already said and I now reiterate that I am not clinging on to power,” Saleh said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television, a transcript of which was published by Yemen's state news agency Saba today.
“I've spent 32 years (in office)... This is experience that I want to transfer peacefully to the people, not to chaos,” he said, referring to the two months of anti-regime protests which have rocked Yemen.
“I will transfer power to the people, who are the source and owner of power,” said Saleh, who warned Yemen was a “time bomb” and could slide into civil war like Somalia across the Gulf of Aden.
“If we do not act, along with good-willed and friendly countries, to close the rift and start a political dialogue, there will be a devastating civil war that will disturb the whole region,” he said.
“They should have learnt a lesson from Somalia,” said Saleh.
“We are a tribal society... Everyone will side with his tribe and we will then end up with a destructive civil war,” added Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.
Yesterday, Saleh insisted that his regime stood “firm” despite the protests around the country and a spate of defections in top military ranks and tribal leaders.
“The legitimate authority is firm and steadfast in the face of challenges, and we will not allow a small minority to overcome the majority of the Yemeni people,” he said.
Saleh has reportedly offered to step down by the end of 2011, a proposal snubbed by the opposition. But his ruling party on Friday said he should serve out his current term until a scheduled presidential election in 2013.
Defections have multiplied since a bloodbath in Sanaa on March 18 when 52 protesters were gunned down by Saleh loyalists, drawing widespread international condemnation. AFP