Facing a wave of high-profile defections following a bloody crackdown on protesters last week, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has announced that he will step down in 2012 and not 2013 as previously offered--a concession that opposition groups, who want Saleh to depart immediately, have roundly rejected.
A presidential aide said the president would only leave office after organizing parliamentary elections by January 2012 and that he would not cede power without knowing who would succeed him, according to Reuters. Saleh also refuses to hand power over to the military.
On Monday, Ali Mohsen, a top military commander, threw his support behind the protesters, encouraging many other military, government, tribal, and religious leaders to follow suit. Saleh has not lost all support, though. Yemen's defense minister claims the military remains loyal to Saleh and The New York Times reports that military units appear to be taking sides in the capital, Sanaa, with the Republican Guard, commanded by Saleh's son Ahmed, protecting Saleh's palace and the First Armored Division, commanded by Mohsen, protecting protesters. The development, the Times writes, raises "the possibility of a dangerous split in the military should Mr. Saleh ... decide to fight to preserve his 32-year rule."
Saleh warned of an impending coup and civil war on Tuesday, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressed concern that the instability arising from the fractured power centers in Yemen could strengthen the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “We consider Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is largely located in Yemen, to perhaps be the most dangerous of all of the franchises of Al Qaeda right now," he said.
Al Qaeda, according to Reuters, has used Yemen as a platform for launching attacks in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the past two years.