Yemen leader scraps offer to quit

Yemen's president, clinging to power despite weeks of protests, has scrapped his offer to step down by the end of the year.





The announcement came as Islamic militants taking advantage of the deteriorating security took control of another southern town.



Opponents of President Ali Abdullah Saleh - a group which started with university students and has expanded to include defecting military commanders, politicians, diplomats and even Mr Saleh's own tribe - had immediately rejected his offer a week ago to leave by the end of this year.



Its formal withdrawal by the president indicates that an attempt by both sides to negotiate a transfer of power to end the crisis has failed.



In a sign of what is at stake in Yemen if security further unwinds, Islamic militants seized control of a small weapons factory, a strategic mountain and a nearby town in the southern province of Abyan, said a witness and security officials.



A day earlier, militants believed to belong to Yemen's active al-Qa'ida offshoot swept into another small town in the area called Jaar.



In both cases, the militants moved in with no resistance because police had withdrawn weeks earlier - as they did in several other parts of the country - in the face of challenges by anti-government protesters.



Mr Saleh is a key ally of the United States in battling al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, which the Obama administration considers the top terrorist threat to the US



Washington is concerned that the co-operation could be at risk if Mr Saleh steps down, and US diplomats sat in on the political talks last week which failed to make progress on a possible transition of power.



"We have had a lot of counter-terrorism co-operation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services. So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we'll face some additional challenges out of Yemen," said US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on ABC TV's This Week. "There's no question about it. It's a real problem."



Mr Saleh himself warned in a TV interview on Saturday night that "Yemen is a ticking bomb" and said that without him in power, the country would descend into civil war.



The protesters behind weeks of demonstrations are demanding Mr Saleh step down immediately and want a ban on future government positions for him and his family. For 32 years he has ruled over Yemen, an impoverished and deeply divided country stitched together by fragile tribal alliances.



Yemen is the poorest nation in the Arab world, is rapidly running out of water resources and oil and is buffeted by conflicts that include an on-and-off rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.









The protesters complain of corruption and the lack of jobs and political freedom. Their ranks swelled as many of the president's allies abandoned him over an escalating crackdown that has killed 92 protesters, according to the Shiqayiq Forum for Human Rights.



More than 40 of them were killed in a single day, as snipers firing from rooftops methodically picked off people in the main protest square in the capital, Sanaa, on March 18.



Increasingly isolated, Mr Saleh convened a meeting yesterday of hundreds of members of his Congress Party's leadership committee.



A party statement released afterward said the meeting affirmed that "President Ali Abdullah Saleh should remain in his position until he finishes his constitutional term" in 2013.



The delegates also reasserted that dialogue is the only way to end the crisis and ensure a peaceful transition of power.



Just days earlier, Mr Saleh had pledged in a meeting with senior officials, military commanders and tribal leaders that he would step down by the end of the year. But that offer was quickly rejected by opposition leaders who dismissed it as a political manoeuvre.



In the south, Islamic militants who have battled Mr Saleh's government were trying to make gains on the turmoil.



Yesterday, militants set up checkpoints around an old factory making bullets for Kalashnikov assault rifles and did the same in the town of al-Husn, where they patrolled the streets and searched cars, said resident Wahib Abdul-Qader.



The fighters were not from the al-Qa'ida offshoot, but one of the many other militant groups roaming southern Yemen called the Salafi Jihad.



They also seized control of the nearby Khanfar Mountain, where a radio station and a presidential guest house are located, said Ali Dahmash, an expert on Islamic militant groups who lives nearby.



A day earlier, residents in the nearby small town of Jaar said militants suspected of belonging to the al-Qa'ida offshoot seized that area.



Al-Qa'ida has seized control of towns in southern Yemen before, but in the past was vigorously confronted by Mr Saleh's security forces.



In central Marib province, suspected al Qaida gunmen killed seven soldiers and wounded seven others in an attack on a military post yesterday, security officials said. Marib is one of several provinces where the militant group is active and only under nominal government control.



The officials said the attackers set fire to a pick-up truck mounted with a machine gun and made off with an armoured vehicle belonging to the post.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there