Could leave power in hours if with dignity: Saleh

Dubai: Cornered by relentless street protests against his regime, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said he would not mind stepping down if allowed a dignified departure, but warned of a Somalia-like civil war in the absence of political dialogue.

Seeking to dispel the notion that he was trying to hold on to power, the embattled president said he was prepared to leave in "a few hours" but he had the responsibility to take the country to "safe shores".

"I could leave power … even in a few hours, on condition of maintaining dignity and prestige," Saleh told Al Arabiya TV.

"I will transfer power to the people, who are the source and owner of power," he said.

The conciliatory remarks came a day after he put a brave face to insist that his regime was unshaken by the course of events of the past two months.

Saleh`s regime has been rocked by massive protests prompting several top military officials and tribal leaders to defect in open support of the protesters.

In power for over 30 years, Saleh is a key US ally in the region. An impoverished and tribally-divided country, Yemen has become a base for al-Qaeda and the government has launched a major operation against the network in the south of the country.

"I have to take the country to safe shores… I`m holding on to power in order to hand it over peaceably… I`m not looking for a home in Jeddah or Paris," Saleh said.

However, he added that he would remain in charge of the ruling party even if stood down.

The President had earlier offered to step down by the end of the year, instead of in 2013 when the term of his government ends, but the protesters had rejected his offer demanding his immediate ouster.

Saleh asked his opponents to learn from the example of Somalia, warning that Yemen was a "time bomb" and could slide into a civil war like situation if the current crisis was not handled properly.

"If we do not act, along with good-willed and friendly countries, to close the rift and start a political dialogue, there will be a devastating civil war that will disturb the whole region," he said.

Though talks have been on to hammer out a deal for a peaceful transition of power, the opposition has said they believe the president is "maneuvering".

"We still have a very big gap," Yassin Noman, the rotating head of Yemen`s opposition coalition was quoted as saying by the channel.

The channel said issues like Saleh`s demand for a guarantee that he and his family would not be pursued legally could be holding out a deal.

Saleh, meanwhile, said meetings had taken place over the past two days to discuss ways to end the crisis and that the US ambassador had also attended.

Attacking the opposition, who he claimed were a minority in the country, he said: "They can organise a march of 20,000 people? I can get two or three million. How can a minority twist the arm of the majority?"

A violent crackdown has been witnessed in the country ever since the unrest broke out in January following similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt.

Plainclothes snipers loyal to the president fired into an anti-government crowd, killing 52 people on March 17, following which the regime was hit by a series of defections, including by top military commanders, ambassadors, lawmakers, provincial governors and tribal leaders, some from his own tribe.