SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh could trigger more bloodshed if he does not act swiftly on demands that he quit, a leading opposition member has said.
“Saleh has mastered delaying tactics. I want to give people hope,” Sakhr al-Wajih, a Soviet-trained air force engineer who was elected to parliament in 1993, told Reuters in an interview.
“I want to say that he will go along with a transition period to confine this corrupt regime to history,” Wajih said.
At least 24 people have been killed since mass protests demanding Saleh’s overthrow, prompted by the fall of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s autocratic rulers, erupted across Yemen last month.
“The mostly young protesters are frustrated. They want to see light at the end of the tunnel. But we cannot discount the scenario of a violent confrontation if Saleh does nothing and the street erupts,” Wajih said on Thursday.
“After Muammar Gaddafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh is the worst Arab ruler,” he added.
Wajih is a member of the National Dialogue, which includes Hamid al-Ahmar, a powerful businessman and tribal leader who has stepped up his opposition to Saleh, and members of the “ulama” religious establishment.
The opposition is backing a transition plan to end Saleh’s 32-year rule and move the country towards democracy.
Saleh, who presides over an impoverished country of 23 million with diminishing oil and water resources, said he would not be pressured by what he has called agents for anarchy.
But the U.S. and Saudi-backed president has softened his tone, meeting this week with religious leaders who tried to nudge him in the direction of accepting the opposition’s plan.
An aide to Saleh said the president would react positively to the opposition plan, which includes a commitment to remove Saleh’s relatives from security positions and preparations for fair elections ahead of Saleh leaving by the end of this year.
Wajih said Saleh was feeling the pressure after key tribal figures disavowed him, including Ahmar’s brother Hussein, and Saleh was forced to announce through state media the sacking of several provincial governors.
“He said he sacked them. The truth is that they resigned,” Wajih said.
He said the president backed down on proposed constitutional amendments that would strengthen his monopoly on power but he expected Saleh would find it difficult to agree to an opposition demand to restructure the security apparatus.
“In which democracy do you see the president’s son heading the Republican Guards, which is one third of the army, and the president’s brother commanding the air force and his brother-in-law in charge of central security?” Wajih said.
Saleh has been downplaying loss of support, appearing on state television with tribal figures and hinting that Yemen would fall apart without him.
“He is mimicking Gaddafi. He is trying to scare city dwellers using the tribes and convince the tribes that ‘my opponents want to undermine your influence’,” Wajih said.
“The fact is that the Yemeni tribes are aware. They will not get themselves into a situation where they could fight with other tribes.
“Yemen has outgrown this regime, which has destroyed everything.”
Editing by Michael Roddy