Yemen president blasts succession claims

Sanaa, Yemen (AP)–Yemen's president blasted opposition claims of a planned handover of power to his son, describing such talk as "utmost rudeness" and insisting there will be no father-to-son succession in his country.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for nearly 32 years but faces growing dissent, also said in a televised speech late Sunday that he will increase salaries for the armed forces in a measure apparently meant to ensure the army's loyalty.

The Yemeni capital, Sanaa, has seen three days of protests since Saturday, inspired by Tunisia's turmoil that ousted that country's longtime ruler. The Yemeni protesters have demanded Saleh step down and that his son does not take over.

Saleh has long been believed to be grooming his son Ahmed, who commands the republican guard and the army's special forces, to succeed him.

"We are against succession," Saleh stressed in Sunday's speech to several hundred officers. "We are in favor of change… and these are rude statements, they are the utmost rudeness."

He accused opposition of trying to take over power by rallying people to the streets "while they [opposition leaders] are hiding in the basement."

Saleh's remarks reflected his anxiety amid growing dissent against his rule. After the Tunisian turmoil, Saleh ordered income taxes be slashed in half and instructed his government to control prices. He also deployed anti-riot police and soldiers to several key areas in Sanaa and its surroundings to prevent riots.

On Saturday, around 2500 students, activists and opposition groups gathered there and chanted slogans against the president, urging him to leave the country like Tunisia's former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

"Get out get out, Ali. Join your friend Ben Ali," they chanted, referring to the Tunisian leader who fled to Saudi Arabia.

Nearly half of Yemen's population lives below the poverty line of US$2 a day and does not have access to proper sanitation. Less than a tenth of the roads are paved. Tens of thousands flooded the cities after having been displaced from their homes by conflict.

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

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

Ali Seif Hassan, a Yemeni political analyst, said Saleh's speech indicates he is not likely to step down. "Saleh will run again in 2013 and will run after the next time," he said. "No Arab leader leaves power democratically to sit and write his diaries."

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