Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who escaped an attempt on his life by opponents, will only cede power through the ballot box and the country will descend into civil war if he is forced from office, his foreign minister said.
A popular uprising against Saleh’s 33-year rule, high profile defections, and an assassination attempt in June which left him with severe burns and forced him to undergo eight operations have all failed to persuade him to give up.
“President Saleh made this very clear. He repeatedly said he is ready to transfer power anytime, but through early elections, through the ballot box and by adhering to the constitution,” Abubakr al-Qirbi told Reuters in an interview.
“Now the issue is for the ruling party and the opposition parties to agree on a date for early elections,” he said.
Qirbi said the timetable set for a transfer of power under a deal, brokered by Gulf states and Washington, was not realistic.
Under the agreement, Saleh and the opposition have 30 days to form a national unity government after which Saleh would resign and elections would follow 60 days later.
“This time schedule has proven to be difficult to implement … Elections cannot take place in 60 days. Therefore, if President Saleh resigns after 30 days and no election can take place in 60 days we will run into a constitutional vacuum in the country,” Qirbi said.
“The president is not scrapping the agreement. It is just the timetable for the implementation that need to be readdressed,” he said.
Qirbi said his government was trying to start a dialogue with the opposition to agree on “a feasible and practical election date” under the supervision of international and regional observers.
He said six months of street fighting and political protests had cost the economy as much as $ 5bn, scared away tourists and investors, and swollen budget deficits.
“We had about three to four months stoppage of our oil exportation because of attacks on pipelines. As result we had to import a lot of gasoline and diesel.”
“We are in a very difficult situation. We are trying to get out of it. The solution has to be a political and it has to be a Yemeni solution. Now we have to save the future of our country.