Embattled Yemen leader slams opposition MPs
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed on Thursday to defend himself by "all possible means" against protesters seeking to unseat him and urged army officers who defected to return to the fold.
"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.
He spoke after military units clashed for the second time this week and the disparate opposition brushed aside new concessions as being too late.
At the meeting, Saleh urged officers and soldiers who defected and joined the growing anti-regime campaign to "return to reason," calling their action "stupid."
He also launched a virulent attack against the parliamentary opposition, rejecting any dialogue with MPs opposed to his three-decade rule.
"Even if we engage in an arrangement with them (opposition leaders) the situation will be worse than now," he said.
Earlier, speaking ahead of another possible escalation on the Muslim weekly day of prayers and rest, Saleh urged his supporters to hold a mass show of support on Friday in a Sanaa square near his presidential palace.
Even if deserted by long-time military, political, tribal and clerical backers, the veteran leader dubbed the event "Friday of Tolerance," countering the pro-change slogans of anti-regime demonstrators around the Arab world.
On Wednesday, parliament voted to pass a state of emergency declared by Saleh on March 18, just hours after regime loyalists gunned down 52 protesters outside their Sanaa University camp set up two months ago.
In theory, the measure outlaws demonstrations and would allow the regime to gag the media. On Wednesday, the Sanaa offices of pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera were shut down.
The opposition has said it will hold off until the following Friday, April 1, to march on the presidential palace for what many fear could prove a bloody final showdown.
Saleh, in power for three decades, has offered his foes a deal on forming a unity government, drawing up a new electoral law, holding a legislative poll, and his successor to be named by the end of 2011 by newly elected MPs.
"But we don't want any more concessions. We just want the president to leave, and quickly," Rashad al-Sharaabi, a member of a youths' committee which has been a key player behind the uprising, said.
He said behind-the-scenes consultations were taking place for a peaceful transition of power. "We want a civil society, not a military regime," cautioned the activist.
On Thursday, fresh clashes in Mukalla, southeast Yemen, between the regular army and elite Republican Guard loyal to Saleh left three wounded, witnesses and medics said.
The fighting pitted soldiers under the orders of a regional commander who has rallied to the side of anti-Saleh protesters and the Republican Guards, witnesses said.
On Monday, two soldiers were killed as the rivals also clashed near a presidential palace in Mukalla.
With fears of violence on the rise, Britain and Germany both announced the evacuation of most staff from their Sanaa embassies and pressed any more of their nationals still in the Yemeni capital to leave.
Russia's foreign ministry also advised all its citizens to immediately leave Yemen.
Sources close to secret talks on a post-Saleh Yemen said General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a key figure who has sided with the protesters, was leading efforts to form a transitional council grouping representatives from all sides.
The International Crisis Group think tank said on Thursday "the political tide in Yemen has turned decisively against" Saleh, who would have to act swiftly to manoeuvre an honourable exit and prevent civil war.
Before the Sanaa bloodbath of March 18, "there was a chance for Saleh to negotiate and even lead a process of reform and peaceful transition of power. That opportunity is gone," it said.
A peaceful transition could reassure Yemen's mighty neighbour Saudi Arabia and Saleh's allies in the United States, which have warned that the turmoil could boost Al-Qaeda's franchise which is already based in Yemen.
Sanaa also faces an on-off Shiite revolt in the north that has dragged in Saudi Arabia and a secessionist movement in the south.
In the southern port city of Aden on Thursday, a policeman was killed and seven others were wounded in a roadside bombing, a security official said.