Yemen's president: I won't extend term or pass power to son

Image: Yemeni President Saleh addresses the parliament in Sanaa
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh addresses the parliament in Sanaa Wednesday.Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
/ Source: news services

The Yemeni president told parliament Wednesday that he would not seek another term in office or hand power to his son — an apparent reaction to protests in this impoverished nation that have been inspired by Tunisia's revolt and the turmoil in Egypt.

The U.S.-allied Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for nearly 32 years, spoke to lawmakers in both houses of the assembly on the eve of mass rallies that the opposition has called for Thursday in all Yemeni provinces.

Activists and opposition supporters , boldly asking for Saleh's removal and decrying reports he plans to install his son in power.

"I won't seek to extend my presidency for another term or have my son inherit it," Saleh told the parliament. "No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock," he added.

Saleh has earlier tried to defuse simmering tensions in Yemen by raising salaries for the army and by denying opponents' claims he plans to install his son as his successor.

But that hasn't stopped critics of his rule from taking to the streets of Sanaa. In January, tens of thousands gathered in days of protests boldly calling for Saleh to step down — a red line that few dissenters had previously dared to cross here.

Saleh's current term in office expires in 2013 but proposed amendments to the constitution could let him remain in power for two additional terms of ten years.

After the Tunisian revolt, which forced that country's president to flee into exile, and the mass protests in Egypt calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak's 30 year-long rule, Saleh ordered income taxes slashed in half and instructed his government to control prices.

He deployed anti-riot police and soldiers to several key areas in Sanaa and its surroundings to prevent riots.

But the street protests, led by opposition members and youth activists, continued, adding to the threats to Yemen's stability.

In the parliament Wednesday, Saleh called upon the opposition to meet for a dialogue on political reforms and their demands.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri rejected the call for dialogue and expressed doubts about Saleh's pledge not to seek re-election.

'Tranquilizers'Al-Sabri said Saleh made a similar promise in 2006, but then failed to fulfill it, ran again and was re-elected.

"The calls for dialogue are not serious and are merely meant to be tranquilizers," al-Sabri said. He added that the opposition parties would meet Wednesday to prepare an official response to Saleh's announcement.

Another opposition figure, Mohammed al-Saadi, undersecretary of the Islamist Islah party, gave a cautious welcome to the announcement but said Thursday's opposition rally would go on as planned.

"We consider this initiative positive and we await the next concrete steps. As for our plan for a rally tomorrow, the plan stands and it will be organized and orderly," he said.

"This is a peaceful struggle through which the people can make their voices heard and express their aspirations," he added.

Yemen is the Arab world's most impoverished nation and has become a haven for al-Qaida militants.

Saleh's government is riddled with corruption, has little control outside the capital, and its main source of income — oil — could run dry in a decade.

Nearly half of Yemen's population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day and doesn't have access to proper sanitation. Less than a tenth of the roads are paved.

Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict, flooding the cities. The country is enduring a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.