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Yemen President Vows to Resist Pressure to Step Down

A Yemeni army officer is lifted by anti-government protesters gestures as he joins them in a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana'a, March 24, 2011

Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh told supporters Friday that he would only hand over power in a carefully planned transition, following elections. His speech came as government supporters and opponents held competing rallies in in the capital Sanaa.

Tens-of-thousands of anti-government demonstrators chanted slogans against President Ali Abdallah Saleh Friday, as a large, rival crowd of supporters heard Mr. Saleh speak.

Opponents of the Yemeni president are calling for his immediate resignation, and they designated their rally in the capital a "Day of Departure."

Amid the applause of thousands of supporters gathered in Sana'a’s "Square 75," the embattled president said he would only step down under certain circumstances:

He said he would only hand power to "safe hands." He said the transition can only come under peaceful circumstances to a successor chosen by the people.

The president alluded to holding early presidential elections, an offer he recently made to the opposition. He also said that he was "making concessions to insure that there is no bloodshed."

At the anti-government protest, held in the capital's Tahrir Square, an officer of the Yemeni Army’s First Armored Division told that crowd that the army would protect them from any violence by thugs or supporters of the president.

He said General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who defected to the opposition this week, gave assurances that the army and security forces will continue to be on the side of the peaceful and popular "youth revolution."

His defection was followed by a flurry of others by prominent army commanders.

The U.S., Saudi Arabia and many Western countries are worried that disorder and chaos in Yemen will allow al-Qaida militants an opportunity to stir up trouble in the region. President Saleh has been an ally of the U.S. in its fight against al-Qaida, waging periodic attacks against its supporters.

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