As Yemeni President, Military Face Off, Opposition Plans 'Friday Of Departure'

Originally published on March 24, 2011 6:20 pm

The situation in Yemen seems to have reached a fork in the road the last few days. Right now, President Ali Abdullah Saleh's presidential guards are facing off with Yemen's military forces led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who sent his troops to protect protesters in the capital city of Sanaa.

Last Friday, 52 protesters were shot dead during protests there.

Yesterday, President Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, offered to step down after elections were held at the end of this year. The opposition, reports The Guardian, has rejected his offer and has planned another rally tomorrow, which they are calling "Friday of Departure:"

General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who sent troops to protect pro-democracy protesters in the capital, Sana'a, said Saleh's options were now few and criticised his "stubbornness", but said the armed forces were committed to protecting protesters.

He said military rule in Arab countries was outdated and that the people would decide who would govern them in the framework of a modern, civilian state. He also refuted the notion that he sought power for himself. "Ali Mohsen as an individual has served for 55 years and has no desire for any power or position," he said. "I have no more ambition left except to spend the remainder of my life in tranquillity, peace and relaxation far from the problems of politics and the demands of the job."

The Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed Yemeni officials, reports that Saleh and al-Ahmar are close to a deal in which this coming Saturday, both men will resign their positions:

The people familiar with the negotiations said Thursday that Mr. Saleh and Gen. Ahmar are intent on preventing bloodshed and preserving stability in the Arabian Peninsula nation. Aides to both men said that while they both understand that Mr. Saleh's continued rule is untenable, they have agreed that the timing of his resignation can't happen until they have worked out the details of a transitional governing council that would take his place. They hope to have a detailed plan ready by Saturday, the people said.

That report is tempered by the fact that Saleh, who Monday warned of a "bloody" civil war, delivered another defiant speech today, offering amnesty to military defectors . Reuters reports:

"I announce a general amnesty for those who committed foolishness before and after Monday. We consider it foolishness and a reaction to what happened on Friday," Saleh said in comments aired on Yemeni state television.

The Times Of India reports that in the same speech, Saleh vowed to defend his government. The Times reports:

"We are determined to preserve the security, independence and stability of Yemen by all possible means," he told army and police officers at a meeting broadcast on state television.

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