Yemen's Saleh says wants to put power in safe hands

Fri Mar 25, 2011 3:53pm EDT
 

By Cynthia Johnston and Mohamed Sudam

SANAA (Reuters) - President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Friday he was ready to cede power to stop more bloodshed in Yemen, but only to what he called "safe hands" as tens of thousands rallied against him in "Day of Departure" protests.

Talks were underway on two tracks to work out the details of a deal on a peaceful transition of power in the Arabian Peninsula state that is home to a resurgent arm of al Qaeda, Yemeni political sources said.

Western countries are concerned al Qaeda militants could exploit any disorder arising from a messy transition if Saleh, a pivotal U.S. and Saudi ally fighting for his political life, finally steps down after 32 years in office.

"We don't want power, but we need to hand power over to safe hands, not to sick, resentful or corrupt hands," Saleh said in a rousing speech to tens of thousands of supporters in Sanaa.

The protesters waved pictures of Saleh and banners saying, "No to chaos, yes to security and stability". Some carried guns and traditional Yemeni daggers, others waved flags and played patriotic songs.

"We are against firing a single bullet, and when we give concessions this is to ensure there is no bloodshed. We will remain steadfast and challenge them with all power we have."

But across the capital, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters held their own "Day of Departure" rally to demand the departure of the president, a serial survivor of civil war, separatist movements and militant attacks. The protesters handed out red cards telling the president to "Get out".

Shooting broke out when soldiers loyal to a top Yemeni general who has been protecting the protesters fired in the air to prevent a crowd of Saleh loyalists approaching the area, witnesses said.   Continued...