Yemen's political crisis reached a new peak on Monday with a defiant President Ali Abdullah Saleh warning that he will not give in to a “coup”, a day after reportedly agreeing to leave office within a month.
Opposition activists claimed that Saleh, ready to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution, was playing for time to avoid the fate of the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, both overthrown by unprecedented displays of people power that have changed the Middle East and north Africa in the last three months.
With Libya engulfed in a bloody civil war and escalating violence in Syria apparently signalling a determination by President Bashar al-Assad to crush mounting protests, the Arab Spring appears to be taking another ominous turn.
Reports from the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, described thousands of demonstrators out on the streets demanding Saleh give up power at once. Saleh had on Saturday reportedly accepted a Saudi-led Gulf states initiative under which he would stand down in 30 days in exchange for immunity - evidently fearing the fate of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. But he sent a different signal in an interview yesterday , fuelling suspicions that the move was just another tactical manoeuvre.
“I will not accept being overthrown in a coup,” the Yemeni president insisted to BBC Arabic. “To whom shall I hand over power? Those who are trying to make a coup? No. We will do it through ballot boxes and referendums. We’ll invite international observers to monitor — but a coup is not acceptable.”
Meanwhile, Yemeni security men opened fire on Monday to block thousands of protesters from marching into an industrial town to join a street rally seeking the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounding 10, witnesses said.
“There were thousands in a march who came from outside Taiz, but police and army and gunmen in plains confronted them, opening fire with bullets and tear gas,” witness said.