Sanaa/Aden: Yemen's president on Saturday accused the opposition of dragging the country into civil war, as Yemenis boarded up their shops and businesses across the country in protest against his rule.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a speech in the capital Sanaa, called on Yemen's youth to form a political party according to the constitution and said the Arab state would not accept any tutelage "whatsoever."
"They (the opposition) want to drag the area to civil war and we refuse to be dragged to civil war," Saleh said.
"Security, safety and stability are in Yemen's interests and the interests of the region," he said.
Protests in Yemen, inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, are now in their third month and bring tens of thousands of people onto the streets almost every day demanding an end to endemic poverty and corruption.
Scores of protesters have been killed.
Acknowledging that Yemeni students drew on the example of Egypt and Tunisia, Saleh said there was a "huge difference" in Yemen, but that his government would meet students' demands in the framework of the constitution and the law.
Up to 90 percent of shops, markets and schools were closed in the southern port city of Aden, a Reuters witness said. There were few pedestrians in the streets and almost no traffic.
Many businesses were also closed for the day in the cities of Taiz, Yemen's third city and a center of opposition to the 69-year-old-president, and Hodeidah on the Red Sea.
Yemenis flooded the streets of Sanaa and Taiz on Friday in rival demonstrations for and against Saleh, who gave a guarded welcome to a Gulf Arab plan for a three-month transition of power.
The proposal of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) calls for Saleh to hand power to his vice president one month after signing an agreement.
He would appoint an opposition leader to lead an interim cabinet charged with preparing presidential elections two months later, a Yemeni official said on Friday.
The plan, presented on Thursday, also gives immunity from prosecution to Saleh, his family and aides -- anathema to his foes, who would also have to end protests under the proposal.
Saleh's long-time Gulf and Western allies, concerned that the chaos in Yemen will open more opportunities for al Qaeda militants, are trying to broker an orderly transition after three months of protests against Saleh's 32-year rule.
First Published: Saturday, April 23, 2011, 19:59