Saleh made his comments in a nearly 20-minute interview with The Washington Post and Time magazine Thursday. It was his first interview since his return to Yemen last Friday from Saudi Arabia, where he was treated for burns and other injuries suffered in a June attack on his presidential compound in Sanaa.
On Thursday, Saleh sat in a large room inside the compound, along with top advisers. Deep scars marked his face. He wore a traditional tribal headdress and gold-colored medical gloves, the type typically worn by burn victims. He appeared in good health and spirits, smiling and peppering the conversation with doses of humor.
Saleh said that a political transition plan crafted by Yemen’s Persian Gulf neighbors made clear that “all elements” causing tensions in Yemen need to be removed. That meant his main rivals — Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who turned against Saleh and joined the nation’s now eight-month-old populist uprising, and the Ahmar clan, a powerful tribal family not related to the general — could not be allowed to run for elections or hold political office or a military command if he steps aside, Saleh said.
“Because if we transfer power and they are there, this will mean that we have given into a coup,” he said. “If we transfer power, and they are in their positions, and they are still decision-makers, this will be very dangerous. This will lead to civil war.”
Saleh’s defiant stance underscored the deepening animosities between him and his rivals, which could torpedo the gulf Arab initiative. Hamid al-Ahmar, the tribal family’s billionaire scion who has expressed interest in the presidency, wields enormous political power in the main opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties. Mohsen, once Saleh’s confidant and strongest ally, still commands much of Yemen’s military and is revered by his soldiers.
Their forces engaged in fierce clashes against forces loyal to Saleh and his family last week; more than 150 people were killed and scores injured — mostly youth activists who seek to end the president’s 33-year-long rule. On Thursday, tribesmen loyal to the Ahmars clashed with tribesmen loyal to Saleh in the capital’s Hassabah enclave.
The violence has been accompanied by an escalation in sharp rhetoric in recent days between Yemen’s warring sides, ratcheting up tensions in this Middle Eastern nation, the region’s poorest.
On Thursday, Saleh strongly hinted that Mohsen and the Ahmars, along with Yemen’s political opposition, might have played a role in the attempt to assassinate him. The government, he said, is waiting for the results of a U.S. investigation into the attack, which Saleh said could be completed by the end of the month.