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Agence France-Presse

Yemen President Saleh 'Likely to Fight, Not Quit'

Wissam Keyrouz

A Yemeni girl holds a picture of embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a pro-regime rally in Sanaa. A defiant Saleh is likely to ignore a non-binding UN Security Council resolution asking him to quit, feeding fears of an all-out civil war, analysts say. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Defiant Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is likely to ignore a non-binding UN Security Council resolution asking him to quit, feeding fears of an all-out civil war, analysts say.

The resolution, unanimously agreed by the council's 15 members on Friday, strongly condemned deadly government attacks on demonstrators and backed a Gulf-brokered plan under which Saleh would end his 33 years in power.

Saleh has repeatedly stalled the Gulf initiative, aimed at ending months of protests, under which he will step down 30 days after it is signed in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

"I do not think the president will sign the Gulf plan" as a result of the UN Security Council Resolution 2014, said head of the Yemeni Centre for Future Studies, Fares Saqaf.

"Most likely he will opt for a scorched earth policy," he said.

Confrontations between Saleh's forces and armed opponents have intensified in the past weeks, raising fears that Saleh's continued refusal to resign will push the deeply tribal country to an all-out civil war.

Clashes and nine months of protests, in which hundreds have been killed, have left the impoverished country's economy on the brink of a total collapse amid rising fears of extremists taking advantage of the weakening central government.

Despite floating on a sea of private weapons, demonstrations initiated by youth protesters inspired by the Arab Spring insisted on the peaceful aspect of their uprising.

But dissident troops led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and tribesmen who sided with the protest eventually locked horns with Saleh's forces in deadly gun battles.

In a new apparent manoeuvre, Saleh's government said on Saturday that it is ready to "positively deal with the UN resolution" and reiterated its offer for "dialogue with the opposition as Yemen's exit from its crisis."

But analysts see this as no more than wishful thinking as the president, seemingly oblivious to domestic and international pressure, has repeatedly refused to sign the Gulf deal.

"The UN resolution and the current level of regional and international pressures are not likely to change the situation in Yemen," says analyst Abdulwahab Badrakhan.

"The Americans and the Saudis have still not put Saleh under direct pressure" to cede power, he said.

Washington and Riyadh seem hesitant over the nature of the change needed in Yemen, home to Al-Qaeda's branch in the Arabian Peninsula, Badrakhan told AFP.

Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director for the Brookings Doha Centre, agrees that the United States and Yemen's neighbour, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, want "Yemen's regime reformed rather than changed."

The UN resolution is "the product of a US-Saudi strategy to push Saleh out of power while keeping his regime (intact)," says the analyst.

Saleh has declared himself a US ally in its "war on terror" as his troops, backed by US drones, continue to battle the extremists in the country's southern and eastern provinces.

The United States seems sceptical of the intentions of Yemen's Islamist-dominated opposition to continue the war against Al-Qaeda militants, said Sharqieh.

The Islah (Reform) party, the country's main opposition political party, is believed to be Yemen's version of the Muslim Brotherhood. The government accuses it of having its own armed militia in the current unrest.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is afraid of a youth-led revolution succeeding on its southern borders, Sharqieh said.

Saleh will most probably "officially announce that he agrees with the UN resolution while at the same time drag the country and his opponents into a war," said Saqaf.

"We will see a military escalation in the coming days."

"Saleh is looking at a post-war settlement and not relenting to a peaceful revolt," he added.

Defected general Ahmar, who said his First Armoured Division lost five soldiers in Saturday clashes, accused Saleh of ordering his sons and relatives, who command Yemen's elite forces, to wage attacks against his foes in the capital.

Intense street battles between troops loyal to Saleh and rival forces throughout the capital Sanaa, left at least 20 people dead and dozens of others wounded at the weekend, according to the latest tally by medics and government officials.

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