Yemen’s Saleh returns amid fresh unrest


Seven killed as violence breaks out following announcement the president was back in Sanaa after a three-month absence

Reports say more than 100 anti-Saleh protesters have been killed by government forces since Sunday [Reuters]

The Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has returned after three months of absence, amid clashes between opposition activists and troops loyal to him.
He had been recovering in Saudi Arabia since suffering injuries in a bomb blast at his presidential palace in the capital, Sanaa, on June 3
“Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of the republic, returned this morning to the land of the nation safely after a trip for treatment in Riyadh that lasted more than three months,” Yemen Television announced on Friday.
A freelance reporter based in Sanaa told Al Jazeera that Saleh’s return, if confirmed, “will encourage more Yemenis to join the march today. “It will also encourage more gunfire”.
Machine gunfire was heard in Sanaa as news of Saleh’s return broke in the early morning hours.
Protests planned

Opposition activists in Yemen said they would protest against Saleh’s return on Friday afternoon.

Mohammed al-Asl, a protest organiser, told the Reuters news agency: “We’re definitely going to have an escalation of violence, but let him come back. We want him to come back and be tried for his crimes.”

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Witnesses reported that after hearing news of Saleh’s return, protesters camped in Sanaa’s main square tried to break through army lines, but were fired upon by government troops. Three were injured.

Fresh clashes and thuds of mortars were also heard throughout the night and early morning in Sanaa and Taiz, Yemen’s second biggest city, killing seven people.

Sanaa has been gripped by street battles and exchanges of shelling between the elite Republican Guards, led by Saleh’s son, and tribesmen opposing Saleh as well as military units who had defected.

Nearly 100 people have been killed in Sanaa and elsewhere in Yemen since Sunday.

Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen, said on Wednesday that the deteriorating security situation, and the reluctance of both sides to reach a political resolution, raises “the risk of civil war breaking out”.

Promised changes

Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera that Saleh has returned most probably to implement promised changes.

“It’s unlikely to see Abdullah Saleh has gone back to Yemen without some sort of consultation with Riyadh and Washington,” he said.

“It seems to me that there is a kind of desire to see a solution with the presence of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa.”

The ongoing clashes in Yemen have stalled a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) initiative that would lead to Saleh stepping down and handing over all constitutional authorities to his deputy.

In return, he and his family would be granted immunity from prosecution.

Saleh has retained power despite eight months of protests in which tens of thousands have taken to the streets to demand an end to his 33-year rule.

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