Sanaa, Feb 27 (AFP) Yemen President Ali Abdullah Salehvowed today to defend his three-decade regime "with every dropof blood", accusing opponents of hijacking protests in a ployto split the nation.
Despite two weeks of escalating protests demandingthat he step down, after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia forcedthe resignations of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali,Saleh has repeatedly refused to resign.
In his latest comments, reported by the state-run Sabanews agency today, he accused his opponents of trying torevive secessionist efforts that sparked a short-lived civilwar in 1994.
"There is a conspiracy against Yemen''s unity andterritorial integrity and we, in the armed forces, have servedto preserve the republican regime with every drop of blood wehave," Saleh was quoted as saying by Saba.
"We are trying in every way possible to deal with andovercome these difficulties democratically, through dialoguewith all political leaders, but in vain."His one concession has been to pledge not to seekre-election in 2013.
An AFP tally based on reports by medics and witnessesshows that at least 19 people have been killed in almost dailyclashes since February 16.
Amnesty International has put the toll at 27, anaverage of nearly three killed every day, since the protestsbegan. Most of the victims were killed in the southern city ofAden, with two in Sanaa and one in Taez in the north.
Today, five protesters were wounded as policedispersed a demonstration of students calling for the fall ofthe regime, in the city of Mukala, in the Hadramaut province.
Medics said that one of the protesters was wounded bya bullet, while the four others were hurt after being beatenby batons.
Pressure on Saleh to bow out intensified yesterdaywhen the leaders of Hashid and Baqil, two of Yemen''s mostimportant tribes, abandoned the president and joined theanti-regime movement.
The protests have been strongest in south Yemen, whichunited with the Saleh-ruled north only in 1990.
The south attempted to secede in 1994, sparking ashort-lived civil war that ended with the region being overrunby northern troops.
In an address to military and police forces lateyesterday, Saleh accused southerners of again seeking tosecede and "divide Yemen" and northerners of aiming toreinstate the monarchy that ruled the country until 1962.