Middle East

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh warns of coup

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh meets with defence force officials in Sanaa in this still image taken from video on 21 March 2011
President Saleh remains defiant in the face of protests and resignations

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said there could be a civil war in Yemen because of attempts to stage what he called a coup against his rule.

"Those who want to climb up to power through coups should know that this is out of the question. The homeland will not be stable, there will be a civil war, a bloody war," he said.

Army officers expressed their support for pro-democracy protesters on Monday.

A senior EU official has predicted that the president "won't last long".

Call for dialogue

Hugues Mingarelli, of the European External Action Service's Middle East office, told a European Parliament committee the Yemeni leader had lost too much support to stay in power, according to AFP.

"I don't see how the president can hold on much longer, given the fact that part of the army, part of the tribal chiefs and part of his political allies have distanced themselves from him," he said.

After some 50 protesters were shot dead at a demonstration in the capital, Sanaa, on Friday, President Saleh's authority has been further undermined by a string of resignations.

Key Yemeni General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, long close to President Saleh, on Monday said he was backing the protesters. Two other senior army commanders were also reported to have resigned.

On Tuesday, two soldiers reportedly died in clashes between the army and the elite Republican Guard in the south-eastern city of Mukalla.

The president has said that he is "truly sympathetic" with the problems faced by the country's youth, according to a report on state news agency Saba, Reuters reports.

He called on them to engage in "a transparent, sincere and open dialogue".

A source close to President Saleh told the BBC on Monday that the president would not stand down - and would call elections later in the year.

On Sunday, he fired his entire cabinet in apparent response to protests against his rule. He asked them to stay in place in a caretaker capacity.

Yemen is one of a number of countries in the region that have seen unrest since the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia were ousted in popular revolts.

The president has been in power for 32 years, facing a separatist movement in the south, a branch of al-Qaeda, and a periodic conflict with Shia tribes in the north.

He has said he will not seek another term in office in 2013, but has vowed to defend his regime "with every drop of blood".

In Moscow on Tuesday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he feared political unrest in Yemen could distract from efforts to fight Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which the US considers a terror group.

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