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Yemen won't be another Somalia, asserts Prez

President Ali Abdullah Saleh said today that Yemen would not become a failed state or be dragged into civil war, despite fierce clashes in the capital with tribal gunmen seeking his ouster.

world Updated: May 25, 2011 15:36 IST

President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Wednesday that Yemen would not become a failed state or be dragged into civil war, despite fierce clashes in the capital with tribal gunmen seeking his ouster.

But Saleh, who has ruled the fractious Arabian Peninsula state for nearly 33 years, said that while he was willing to sign a deal that would end his rule, he would not make any further concessions.

"Yemen, I hope, will not be a failed state or another Somalia. The people are still keen for a peaceful transition of power," he told Reuters in an interview.

Yemeni loyalist forces have fought fierce street battles in Sanaa since Monday with guards from a powerful tribal federation whose leader has sided with protesters demanding an end to Saleh's rule. The clashes have killed at least 39 people.

The opposition warned that attacks by loyalist forces could spark a civil war, and the violence greatly dimmed prospects for a political solution to a nearly four month old revolt inspired by protests that swept aside the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.

"What happened was a provocative act to drag us into civil war, but it is limited to the Ahmar sons. They bear responsibility for shedding the blood of innocent civilians," Saleh, speaking earlier, told selected media including Reuters.

"Until this second, they are attacking the Interior Ministry. But we don't want to widen the confrontation," he said.

The clashes, in the sandbagged streets surrounding the mansion of tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar, erupted after Saleh refused at the last minute to sign a Gulf brokered deal that would ease him out of power within a month.

Saleh has backed out of previous deals, but Sunday's turnabout appeared to be among the most forceful, coming after loyalist gunmen trapped Western and Arab diplomats in the United Arab Emirates embassy for hours.

Saleh said the deal remained on the table, "I am ready to sign within a national dialogue and a clear mechanism. If the mechanism is sound, we will sign the transition of power deal and we will give up power." "No more concessions after today," he said.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by a wing of al Qaeda based in Yemen, have been involved in talks to end the crisis and avert a spread of anarchy that could give the global militant network more room to operate.

"We will confront with force any threat to stability and security," Saleh said. "We have faced more than one challenge."