Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared on Thursday that he would not step down as long as his key rivals remain in influential positions, potentially dashing US hopes for a peaceful transition of power.
Saleh also said that the US was playing a previously unknown role in assisting Yemeni forces fighting an al Qaeda affiliate in southern Yemen, underscoring US concerns that the political vacuum here could allow Islamist militants to deepen their grip and create a haven from which to attack the United States and its allies.
Saleh made his comments in a nearly 20-minute interview with The Washington Post and Time magazine on Thursday.
Saleh said that a political transition plan crafted by Yemen's Persian Gulf neighbours made clear that "all elements" causing tensions in Yemen need to be removed. That meant his main rivals - Maj Gen Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who turned against Saleh and joined the nation's now eight-month-old populist uprising, and the Ahmar clan, a powerful tribal family not related to the general - could not be allowed to run for elections or hold political office or a military command if he steps aside, Saleh said.
"Because if we transfer power and they are there, this will mean that we have given into a coup," he said. "If we transfer power, and they are in their positions, and they are still decision-makers, this will be very dangerous. This will lead to civil war." When asked why government forces were violently suppressing protesters with heavy machine guns, mortars and snipers, he blamed Mohsen and the Ahmars. "They are the ones who attack the military bases, the civilians and the protesters...," Saleh said.
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