|Anti-government protestors attend a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, June 3, 2011. (Hani Mohammed / AP)|
|Yemeni citizens fled the capital Sanaa on Saturday after an attack on the presidential palace that left President Ali Abdullah Saleh, above, slightly injured. (Hani Mohammed / AP)|
Saudi monarch intervenes in attempt to contain raging military conflict that has swept the capital
msnbc.com news services
SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh arrived in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for treatment for wounds, the Saudi royal court said on Sunday.
"The Yemeni president has arrived along with officials and citizens who had received different injuries for treatment in Saudi Arabia," the royal court said.
The announcement followed a flurry of conflicting reports about the Yemeni president's whereabouts after Saudi King Abdullah announced that he had mediated a cease-fire to end deadly street battles.
Saleh was was wounded during an attack on the presidential palace Friday.
In latest developments, Saleh's Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had taken over as acting president and supreme commander of the armed forces, Al Jazeera reported Saturday, citing unspecified sources.
For months, Saleh has defied intense pressure from his powerful Gulf neighbors and longtime ally Washington to step down. He agreed to transfer power several times, only to step back at the last moment. Should he leave the country now, he might never return, given that large segments of the population and a powerful tribal alliance could engineer his ouster while he's gone.
The extent of Saleh's injuries has been a matter of intense speculation. When the rocket struck the mosque in his presidential compound and splintered the pulpit, he was surrounded by top government officials and bodyguards. Eleven guards died, and five officials standing nearby were seriously wounded and taken to Saudi Arabia.
Yemeni ruling party officials and rebel tribesmen say Abdullah mediated a one-week cease-fire between the warring forces of Saleh and the anti-government opposition. The Saudi monarch intervened in an attempt to contain a raging military conflict that has swept the capital over the past week.
Abdullah stepped in shortly after Saleh's presidential palace compound was hit by a rebel rocket attack on Friday. Saleh was slightly injured, and 11 security guards were killed. Five other top officials were sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment.
Brink of civil war
Meanwhile, thousands fled Sanaa on Saturday in fighting which has brought Yemen closer to civil war.
Saleh's forces retaliated by shelling the homes of the leaders of a powerful tribal federation fighting an urban battle to oust Saleh.
The clashes have killed nearly 200 people over the last two weeks and turned areas of Sanaa into ghost towns after residents fled for safety.
Global powers are worried that Yemen, home to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and bordering the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, could become a failed state, raising risks for regional security and Gulf oil shipments.
Saleh, a tenacious political survivor who has clung to power for nearly 33 years, said in an audio address late on Friday that an "outlaw gang" was behind the attack, which he blamed on the Hashed tribe led by Sadeq al-Ahmar. A tribal spokesman denied responsibility.
"I salute our armed forces and the security forces for standing up firmly to confront this challenge by an outlaw gang that has nothing to do with the so-called youth revolution," Saleh said. "Seven officers were martyred."
Tribal and medical officials said Saturday that 10 tribesmen were killed and 35 injured in overnight fighting in Sanaa's Hassaba neighborhood, headquarters of opposition Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar. A tribal leader said street fighting lasted until dawn. Many of the compound's buildings and surrounding houses have already been heavily damaged by days of bombardment.
Government and rebel forces exchanged rocket fire, damaging a contested police station. The rockets rained down on streets housing government buildings that had been taken over by tribesmen.
Intermittent blasts and sporadic fire fights with automatic weapons punctuated the predawn hours and roads were clogged when the sun rose by civilians trying to flee the fighting that has engulfed more parts of the city.
"Bullets are everywhere, explosions terrified us. There's no chance to stay anymore," said Sanaa resident Ali Ahmed.
Nearly 400 people have been killed since a popular uprising against Saleh began in January, inspired by the movements in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled their long-standing leaders.
The battles are being fought on several fronts, with popular protests in several cities and military units breaking away from Saleh to protect the protesters.
There has also been a nearly week-long campaign in Zinjibar by locals and Saleh's soldiers to oust Islamist and al-Qaida militants who seized the southern coastal city near a shipping lane where about 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.
Defying world pressure, Saleh has thrice reneged on a deal brokered by Gulf states for him to quit in return for immunity from prosecution, even as he loses support at home.