By LAURA KASINOF
Published: March 26, 2011SANA, Yemen — A day after he said he was ready to yield power to “safe hands,” President Ali Abdullah Saleh asserted Saturday that his departure was not imminent, leaving unclear when and under what terms he would agree to step down.
His statement was the latest pivot in back-and-forth negotiations over a transfer of power, even as Mr. Saleh tries to frame the terms under which he would leave.
“A presidential source denied on Saturday what have been reported by some media outlets that President Ali Abdullah Saleh will step down,” said a statement by the official Saba news agency.
This was a reference to reports by several news agencies saying that the president was ready to agree to a transition as early as Saturday. Mr. Saleh said Friday that he would leave if he could hand the reins to safe hands, and not “malicious forces.” But early Sunday the president sounded obstinate in an appearance on Al Arabiya television, saying, “We are not clinging to power,” and adding that he would turn over power “to the people, but not to chaos.”
The shifting and sometimes murky stances of the government and its opponents have become a trademark of the current political crisis. A month ago, Yemen’s opposition coalition, the Joint Meetings Parties, proposed a plan under which Mr. Saleh would leave at the end of this year. The president recently agreed to the proposal.
But protesters have rejected the plan and called for Mr. Saleh’s immediate ouster. And the opposition has recently shifted positions and said that Mr. Saleh must leave immediately, without conditions.
Antigovernment protests continued across the country Saturday. In the southern city of Jaar, known as a Qaeda haven, militants took over all official government buildings, according to local reports.