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Tensions increase in Yemen, as fears of civil war rise

Opposition leader declares "we cannot ignore the youth" as Yemen's foreign minister says that the country could enter a civil war and collapse if Saleh is forced out of power.

SANAA // Yemen's main opposition coalition will not allow the country's ruling regime to "buy time through dialogue" despite the foreign minister's warning that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's removal could spark a civil war, opposition leaders said yesterday.

Mohammed Qahtan, a Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) spokesman, said the coalition will announce plans to escalate the dispute within a week.

He would not elaborate on how the escalation would take place.

The JMP's position comes in response to a warning on Wednesday by Yemen's foreign minister, Abubakr Al Qirbi, that Yemen could enter a civil war and collapse if Mr Saleh is forced out of power.

Hameed Ahmar, the president of the opposition's dialogue committee, said that Mr Al Qirbi's threats, made during an interview with Reuters news agency, are not new and that the current regime prefers to use force against its people.

"This is a sign that there are no wise people in the ruling party and that they have no value for the blood of the Yemeni people," said Mr Ahmar.

"We will not allow the regime to buy more time in power through dialogue. The regime has killed enough innocent people," he said.

Gen Ali Mohsen, one of the country's most powerful military leaders, called on the international community to listen to the youth demanding change in Yemen.

"We cannot ignore the youth. They have been protesting peacefully for six months and their message for change is clear and justified," he said.

The Revolution Youth Council, one of the main revolution youth movements in Yemen, said that the foreign minister's comments only proved that Mr Saleh does not intend to step down under any circumstance.

"We told western officials that Saleh will not even step down from power in 2013 when his term ends. Saleh is trained to lie and his words and promises are useless. He is using the peacefulness of the Yemeni revolution for his advantage, but Yemen and history will not forgive him for his vicious crimes," said Khaled Anesi, a founder of the Revolution Youth Council.

Mr Al Qirbi said that Mr Saleh, who is recovering in Saudi Arabia from injuries received when his presidential compound in Sanaa came under attack on June 2, is ready to transfer power but only through early elections and by adhering to the constitution.

Critics have said one of the reasons Mr Saleh is able to cling to power is because of the differences within the opposition parties and youth movements.

Pro-democracy youth are divided into tens of different movements which all differ in strategies and goals for the post-Saleh era. The JMP's six parties are divided as well.

You cannot defeat your enemy if you are separated," said Ali Abdul Jabbar, the director of Dar Ashraf Research Centre in Sanaa.

"Differences of the opposition and youth have kept President Saleh alive even during his weakest days."

Security in the country has largely crumbled since the outbreak of an uprising against Mr Saleh in February. Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Yemen and militants have taken control of territory in the south.

Yesterday, security forces fired on protesters in the southern city of Taiz and fierce clashes erupted between tribesmen and army troops outside the capital, opposition sources said.

In Taiz, activists said gunmen from the central security forces were raining fire on a square where demonstrators have been camped out for months.

"There is gunfire on the sit-in area now and we can also hear gunfire coming from a number of different streets," the activist Bushra Al Maqtari said by telephone, shouting over the sound of shooting. She said it was still unclear how many had been hurt.

The attack began after a group of protesters marched outside of the sit-in area into the streets.

Farther north, in the town of Arhab outside of Sanaa, tribesmen there said eight of their fighters were killed as clashes resumed between with army troops in the area.

They said warplanes had struck the sites where armed tribesmen were hiding after they attacked a military site in the area.

Yemen's defence ministry, in a text message sent to reporters in Sanaa, said its Third Mountain Infantry Brigade had been attacked. "The brigade is confronting armed men from the opposition that tried to sneak into its Samaa base," it said. "Terrorist militias used heavy weapons to attack the brigade."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters