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Yemen president warns of civil war after defections

world Updated: Mar 22, 2011 23:33 IST

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told army commanders on Tuesday the impoverished Arab state could descend into civil war because of efforts to stage what he called a 'coup' against his rule.

Senior army commanders said on Monday they had switched support to pro-democracy activists who have been protesting for weeks, demanding the veteran ruler stand down.

"Those who want to climb up to power through coups should know that this is out of the question. The homeland will not be stable, there will be a civil war, a bloody war. They should carefully consider this," he said in a speech before commanders.

General Ali Mohsen, commander of the northwest military zone and Saleh's kinsmen, said on Al Jazeera on Monday he was backing the protesters and himself warned of civil war if repression of protest continued.

"I say clearly to the brother officers (who resigned) as a result of weakness and media intimidation: The media has terrorised them until they fell like autumn leaves and they shall regret it," Saleh said in the speech.

In a separate speech to tribal leaders in Sanaa, many of whom back the protesters, Saleh repeated his civil war warning and added that the country could face distintegration.

"You have an agenda to tear down the country, the country will be divided into three instead of two halfs. A southern part, northern part and a middle part. This is what is being sought by defectors against the unity," he said, referring to northern Shiite rebels and al Qaeda militants.