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Yemen leader says he will step down, but his aides qualify remark

From Hakim Almasmari, CNN
updated 2:48 AM EDT, Sun October 9, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Saleh says, "I will leave power in the coming days"
  • But his aides immediately add a power transfer plan must be approved first
  • Opposition officials say Saleh's pledge is nothing new and dismiss it
  • Massive demonstrations this week seek the president's ouster

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen President Ali Abdallah Saleh said Saturday he would step down in coming days, but his senior aides immediately added that such a departure would occur only if a power transfer agreement is reached.

"I reject power and I will reject power in the coming days and I will leave power in the coming days," Saleh told Parliament Saturday, a day after massive demonstrations demanded his ouster. "But there are men who will not let go of power. There are men -- who are sincere to God, whether they are civilians or military -- who can take hold of the nation. It's impossible that they will ruin the nation."

Following the remarks, senior Saleh officials said the president did not intend to say that he will be leaving within days, and added that he would step down only if a transition plan is approved. That plan was hammered out by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional bloc of Gulf Arab nations.

"Saleh will not step down unless the GCC power transfer proposal is signed. He will not leave power if the proposal is not signed," government spokesman Abdu Ganadi said.

Nobel laureate: 'Victory for Yemen'

Ganadi added that Saleh is not power hungry and can step down at anytime.

Opposition officials said Saleh's claims were nothing new -- and suspect.

They contended that Saleh has made prior claims about accepting the GCC proposal but he has refused to sign it, though the GCC secretary general secretary visited Yemen six times since the proposal was introduced.

"This is a new tactic to calm the international community. Saleh knows the U.N. Security Council will meet tomorrow, and if he was serious he would step down immediately," said Ahmed Bahri, head of the political circle in the opposition Haq party.

In his remarks to legislators, Saleh, who has been ruling Yemen since 1978, praised his country for its strength during the "nine-month long conspiracy," referring to the social unrest.

He accused the opposition of blowing up pipelines, attacking military stations, cutting off electricity, attacking republican guards, blocking roads, occupying major roadways, beating civilians, shutting down hospitals and schools, and forcefully ejecting persons from their homes.

He told legislators to "pass by the squares, and you will see the terrorism," referring to demonstrators.

"I was never a foreign agent and will never be a foreign agent. I do not receive my salary from a foreign country, but I carried a revolution and I carried the morals and ambitions of the Yemeni people," Saleh said.

On Friday, massive anti-government protests spread across Yemen as demonstrators called for the departure of the embattled Saleh and his allies.

Activists dubbed the day "the Friday of al-Hamdi," a reference to Ibrahim al-Hamdi, a popular former president of North Yemen who was slain in 1977. North and South Yemen merged into the Republic of Yemen in 1990.

The number of protesters across the country was estimated at 3 million, with 800,000 alone in the capital of Sanaa, according to eyewitnesses. That count could not be verified independently.

People in the south as well as the north hailed al-Hamdi and called for Saleh to leave government.

Yasser al-Nahmi, a youth activist in Sanaa, said al-Hamdi's mission decades ago was to lead Yemen in the right direction.

"Yemen wants a leader like him and not an oppressor like Saleh," he said.

Demonstrators and world powers have called for Saleh's departure and a transition of power.

Activists mocked the failure of the GCC's power transfer proposal.

CNN's Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

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