On Thursday evening, hundreds of once pro-Saleh tribesmen arrived in what is known as “Change Square” from Marib Province and marched through the boisterous crowds, the latest group to announce their defection to the populist revolution. “Welcome, Welcome,” an activist yelled over loudspeakers.
Pressure is building, seemingly from every corner of Yemen, for Saleh to step down immediately, even as the United States and its allies appear to favor a more gradual transition of power in a fragile nation beset by multiple emergencies, including a potent al-Qaeda presence.
But Saleh, one of the wiliest politicians in the modern Middle East, has survived for 32 years. Although many here hope he will step down peacefully, some fear he will stay and fight, further weakening Yemen and perhaps bringing civil war.
Officials align with foes
Over the past week, influential generals, tribal leaders, diplomats and ministers have either resigned or aligned themselves with his opponents. On Thursday, a prominent leader of Yemen’s largest tribe, the Baqeel, added his support for the uprising, joining Saleh’s Hashid tribe, which also backs the opposition.
In response, Saleh has received parliamentary approval to install emergency law for a month, a move that could give him wide powers to crush his opponents. He has also offered numerous concessions, including a promise to step down after a presidential election at the end of year, instead of in 2013, when his term ends. But on Thursday, Yemen’s major opposition bloc snubbed his offer, sensing that the embattled leader is losing his grip on power.
Outside the university, the engine of the uprising, tens of thousands from all walks of life have been protesting daily, unwilling to compromise.
“We will not accept any negotiations,” said Mustafa Ali Magudi, a student who traveled here from the northern city of Amran. “We will not accept any concessions from Saleh. He must go now.”
Late Thursday night, Saleh promised a peaceful transfer of power according to a statement by him on the al-Jazeera news channel, although he did not provide a timeline or conditions for stepping down. But on Yemeni state television, Saleh accused the opposition of refusing to negotiate a power-sharing deal. He also offered to pardon military officials who defected, suggesting that he had no plans to hand over power soon.