Yemeni president eyes end of career, as protests planned

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

SANA’A - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will not seek another term in office and called for the opposition to join him in a national unity alliance, in an address Wednesday to a joint session of both houses of parliament.

Saleh’s announcement came as large opposition demonstrations were planned in Sana’a for Thursday as part of a “Day of Rage”, and was made just hours after President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt also said he would not seek re-election.

“I present these concessions for the sake of the country,” Saleh told legislators, adding that national interests “are more important than personal concerns”.

He went on to call for the opposition to cancel all protests, but Islah, a leading opposition party, pledged that the demonstrations will go on as planned.

Saleh, aged 64, has ruled since 1978 - first in North Yemen and since the end of the Cold War in the united Gulf country. His current term in office is set to expire in 2013.

The “Day of Rage”, organised by opposition groups, is calling for democratic and economic reforms in the impoverished country, and more freedoms for citizens. It is scheduled to take place in Tahrir Square in central Sana’a and in other locals across the country.

The ruling party, meanwhile, has called for counter rallies in support of the government and Saleh, also in central parts of the capital.

The president, in his address to parliament, asked the members of both houses to band together and form a national unity government. He postponed parliamentary elections, scheduled for April, until talks with the opposition on an alliance were concluded.

The Yemeni leader’s announcement included a pledge that he would not change the constitution to allow him to run again and his son would not follow him in office, as had been rumoured.

“No resetting the clock, no inheritance,” said Saleh.

But the president issued a stern and thinly veiled warning to opposition demonstrators.

“Every Yemeni citizen has the right to defend himself and his property if mobs come,” he said, while speaking about the planned protests.

Weapons in Yemen are said to outnumber the population by at least two to one and arms can easily be obtained in markets.

The country, the poorest in the Gulf region, also suffers from several internal conflicts, including armed secessionist movements in the north and south, and an emerging radical Islamist threat in the form of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Al Qaeda offshoot was blamed for an attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, and cargo plane bombs sent to the US late last year.

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