SANAA (Reuters) - President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Friday he was ready to cede power to prevent more bloodshed in Yemen but only to what he called safe hands as a massive Day of Departure street protest against him began. Western countries are alarmed that al-Qaeda militants entrenched in the Arabian Peninsula country could exploit any chaos arising from a messy transition of power if Saleh, a pivotal US and Saudi ally fighting for his political life, finally steps down after 32 years in office. We dont want power, but we need to hand power over to safe hands, not to sick, resentful or corrupt hands, Saleh said in a rousing speech to supporters shown on state television as tens of thousands of his foes rallied elsewhere in the capital Sanaa. Thousands of Saleh supporters in Sanaa were also out early on the streets for what they dubbed the Friday of Tolerance, with banners saying No to chaos, yes to security and stability. Some were carrying guns and traditional Yemeni daggers, others were waving flags and playing patriotic songs. We are ready to leave power but only for safe hands, Saleh said. We are against firing a single bullet and when we give concessions this is to ensure there is no bloodshed. We will remain steadfast and challenge them with all power we have. Protesters encamped in their thousands outside Sanaa University for six weeks declared Friday a Day of Departure when they hoped to bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets in a further attempt to oust Saleh, a serial survivor of civil war, separatist movements and militant attacks. Similar mass protests on March 18 left 52 people dead, apparently gunned down by plainclothes snipers. That bloodshed prompted a string of generals, diplomats and tribal leaders to abandon Saleh, severely weakening his position. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Saleh and top general Ali Mohsen - the most significant of this weeks defectors - were hashing out a deal whereby both men resign within days to allow a civilian transitional government. A spokesman for Saleh denied the report but said Saleh had held a meeting over the past 48 hours with the general. Ali Mohsen clarified why he did what he did and requested assurances that nothing would happen against him, Ahmed al-Sufi said. Soldiers loyal to Mohsen fired in the air later Friday to prevent a crowd of Saleh supporters from reaching the anti-government protest where tens of thousands were rallying.