Saleh warns of civil war as pressure mounts


SANAA – Yemen’s embattled president warned on Tuesday that a coup attempt could spark civil war, as pressure mounted for him to step down and two soldiers were reported killed in a clash between rival units. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, warned that Yemen’s political crisis could distract attention from its fight against Al Qaeda. With tanks deployed on the streets of the capital, President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned in an address to his top brass: “Any attempt to reach power via a coup will lead to a civil war in the country.”
Saleh, who since January has faced mass protests across Yemen calling for his ouster, also said at the meeting broadcast on state television that “any division in the armed forces will have a negative impact on the whole country.” Medics and witnesses said two soldiers died in a clash between the regular army and the Republican Guard, an elite force loyal to Saleh, in the southeastern city of Mukallah. The two forces clashed near a presidential palace in Mukallah late on Monday, witnesses said. “The bodies of two soldiers, one of a soldier with the army and another of a member of the Republican Guard, were brought in” to a hospital in Mukallah, the medics said. Saleh’s son Ahmed commands the Republican Guard, while other family members head other elite units.
On the army side, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who commands the northwest region covering Sanaa, eastern region commander General Mohammed Ali Mohsen, and other officers on Monday pledged support for the protesters. Ahmar told AFP that Saleh was “under pressure to accept an opposition plan for a peaceful transition, including his departure before the end of 2011.”
Most protesters, however, have rejected any such compromise, calling for Saleh to step down immediately. The president himself insists on serving out his term until 2013. The defections continued on Tuesday, as one after another, soldiers and officials announced their support for the “youth revolution” at the square near Sanaa University where protesters have kept vigil since February 21.
However, a statement carried on the official Saba news agency quoting the armed forces said the military remains loyal to the president and would not allow “any attack on democracy and the constitutional order.” “The armed forces announce that they remain faithful to their oath to the political leadership, directed by President Saleh,” the statement said. Gates, who was in Moscow, said on Tuesday that “instability and diversion of attention from dealing with AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) is certainly my primary concern about the situation.”