Yemen's Ailing President Calls for End to Street Protests

Yemen's ailing President Ali Abdullah Saleh called Sunday for an end to months of street protests seeking his ouster and urged dialogue during the holy month of Ramadan to end the crisis.

Saleh's statement, published on the state news agency, was delivered from his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, where he has been receiving treatment for serious burns and other wounds he suffered in a June 2 attack on the presidential compound.

Yemen is reeling from nearly six months of protests by activists calling for Saleh to put an end to his 33 years in power. The crisis has sparked armed conflict between Saleh's forces and heavily armed tribesmen who have turned against him, further destabilizing the already fragile and impoverished country. And there are fears that Yemen's al-Qaida offshoot will gain from the turmoil and have a freer hand in plotting attacks on the West.

With Ramadan starting on Monday, Saleh appealed to the spirit of the month of reconciliation and piety and urged his opponents to embrace yet another round of dialogue.

"In this religious occasion, we assert our call for all political forces on the scene to take up dialogue as the only exit and the best means to resolve crises and disputes, and differences," he said. "There is no alternative to dialogue, stemming from national principles and the constitution."

Organizers of the street protests have refused earlier offers of dialogue. Mainstream opposition political parties have taken part only to see Saleh back out of a deal at the last minute on several occasions.

Nonetheless, in Sunday's Ramadan message, Saleh said the deal, mediated by Gulf Arab nations, should still be the basis for talks. It calls for him to transfer power within a month of signing a deal in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Saleh sounded a defiant tone, saying change will not come under fire.

"The change everyone is seeking won't come through violence, spreading hate and envy, the mentality of coups and conspiracies, liquidation of opponents or sowing seeds of sedition," he said.

"Let's move on. ... Yemen won't get out of this crisis amid tension, holding ground in protests in the streets of the capital, which is uncivilized."

During his lengthy absence, Saleh has managed to hold on to power thanks to his powerful son Ahmed, who commands the Republican Guard.

But security in the south of the country has rapidly deteriorated. Islamist militants, some linked to al-Qaida, have overrun entire towns in the south.

Also on Sunday, tribesmen and armed residents drove the fighters from one of those towns.

Jihad Hafeez, a resident of the town of Lawder, said the militants fled Sunday to the neighboring province of Shabwa, a hotbed of Islamic militants, after two days of fierce fighting. Casualty figures were not available.