|The capital of Sanaa was rocked by fighting early in the day as anti-regime demonstrators took to the streets [AFP]
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, has said he will not step down if his former allies-turned-rivals are allowed to run in elections.
In an exclusive interview on Thursday, the embattled leader told Time magazine and The Washington Post that a power transfer deal crafted by his Gulf neighbours calls for "all the elements" causing tension in Yemen to be removed and warned of a civil war if that did not occur.
Saleh was referring to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who has joined ranks with a populist uprising that began early this year, and the powerful al-Ahmar tribe, not related to the general.
"If we transfer power and they are there, this will mean that we have given in to a coup," Saleh said in his first interview since returning home on Friday from a stay in Saudi Arabia to recover from injuries sustained during a June attack on his palace.
"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, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, sparked a fresh wave of violence with his return as scores have been killed.
The 69-year-old president has repeatedly refused to sign a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) under which he would hand over to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.
In the interview, Saleh insisted he remained committed to the GCC initiative, denying claims he was seeking delays to hold on to power and putting the blame on the opposition's inflexibility.
"This is a misunderstanding. We are willing within the next hours and next days to sign it, if the JMP [Joint Meetings Party] comes closer" to reaching an agreement, Saleh said about the Joint Meetings Party opposition coalition.
"We don't want to prolong it. And we don't want this crisis to continue. We want this country to get out of this crisis... The transfer of power is a given, whether sooner or later."
More deadly violence
Saleh's remarks came as heavy gunfire and explosions rocked the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and the southern city of Taiz, as clashes between government troops and rival tribesman left at least three people killed.
Late on Thursday, in the protest hotbed of Taiz, south of the capital, one person was killed and five others were wounded as activists said their protest camp, where demonstrators have camped out for months to demand the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was attacked.
"As dusk set in there was heavy gunfire on the camp, the bullets were flying over our heads. Now we're seeing armoured vehicles approaching the square and we're afraid they are going to storm it," said activist Bushra al-Maqtari.
Northern districts of the capital of Sanaa were also rocked by fighting early in the day, but the city later settled into a tense calm, with extra checkpoints set up by warring factions and many streets still deserted.
The office of the tribal chief al-Ahmar said two of his brother’s personal guards, were killed and five others were wounded in Thursday’s clashes.
Shelling and gunfire had engulfed parts of north Sanaa at dawn as troops and tribes loyal to the president battled armed followers of al-Ahmar, Reuters news agency quoted one of its reporters at the scene as saying.
Many residents fled their homes as the fighting intensified, shattering three days of calm after Saleh ordered a ceasefire on his surprise return to Yemen on Friday.