REPORTING FROM CAIRO and SANA, YEMEN -- With his country tilting toward civil war and powerful tribes and mutinous soldiers arrayed against him, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Saturday that he would step down soon.
Saleh, a shrewd political tactician who has stayed in power for more than three decades, has broken similar promises in the past. But the president appears to be losing his grip on a state engulfed in protests, an intensifying secessionist movement in the south and growing resistance from tribes, including a billionaire clan leader whose fighters are battling government forces in the capital, Sana.
“I reject power and I will continue to reject it, and I will be leaving power in the coming days,” Saleh said in a speech on state television. “I call on my supporters to persevere and to confront any challenge.”
The president’s announcement came the day after Tawakul Karman, a journalist and human rights activist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for leading demonstrations against Saleh. The prize was the latest international repudiation of the longtime leader, who survived an assassination attempt four months ago.
His opponents dismissed Saleh’s vow to resign as another ploy.
“Saleh has given many speeches about leaving power and no one believes this,” said Mohammed Sabri, an opposition leader. “It’s an attempt to draw attention away from the Nobel Prize and to head off criticism” after the U.N. envoy left Yemen after weeks of failing to negotiate a compromise between Saleh and the opposition.
Even as pressures against him have multiplied, Saleh has refused to honor a plan backed by the U.S. and Persian Gulf states for a transfer of power. His surprise return to Yemen last month after recovering in Saudi Arabia from a rocket attack on his compound that left him severely burned only heightened the unrest.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo and Zaid al-Alayaa in Sana.
Photo: President Ali Abdullah Saleh at a meeting Saturday with parliamentarians in Sana, Yemen. Credit: Yemeni Presidency Office / EPA.