Yemen's Saleh warns of 'chaos' US keeps lifeline
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has warned of Somalia-like "chaos" in Yemen if he steps down without an agreed successor as Washington said yesterday his fall could endanger its fight against Al-Qaeda.
Highlighting the multiple challenges facing any ruler of Yemen, suspected Al-Qaeda militants seized control of Jaar, a town in the restive southern province of Abyan, security officials told AFP.
The ruling party of Yemen was scheduled to meet for crisis talks yesterday after Saleh said he was ready hand over power to a safe hand.
The battle for control left at least one soldier dead and a militant seriously wounded, an official said.
"Jaar and surrounding villages have fallen into the hands of Al-Qaeda," he said on condition of anonymity. The militants seized control of public buildings, including a local radio station and a barracks.
In Batige, 10 kilometres from Jaar, about 30 armed and hooded suspected Al-Qaeda fighters seized and made off in four vehicles with cases of weapons from a munitions factory, witnesses said.
The flare-up came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Saleh's fall or replacement by a weaker leader would pose "a real problem" for Washington's fight against Al-Qaeda, in an interview with ABC television.
Saleh at the same time portrayed himself as a symbol of stability in the Arabian peninsula.
"I have already said and I now reiterate that I am not clinging on to power," he said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television, as six soldiers died in another suspected Al-Qaeda attack in Marib, in the east.
"I've spent 32 years (in office)... This is experience that I want to transfer peacefully to the people, not to chaos," the embattled president said, referring to the two months of anti-regime protests which have rocked Yemen.
"I will transfer power to the people, who are the source and owner of power," said Saleh, warning that Yemen was a "time bomb" and could slide into civil war like Somalia across the Gulf of Aden.
With the United States keeping a lifeline for Saleh, Gates played up the key role of Yemeni authorities in helping to fight Al-Qaeda.