SANAA (Reuters) - President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemen after a
three-month absence calling for an end to heavy fighting on Friday, but
opponents said they feared more bloodshed and the United States demanded he
Saleh, who went to neighbouring Saudi Arabia for medical treatment in June
when he suffered severe burns in an assassination attempt, urged a
cease-fire between his supporters and opponents to halt five days of
fighting in the capital Sanaa.
His reappearance raised big questions over the future of the fractious
Arabian Peninsula state, which has been paralysed by protests against his
33-year rule since January.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "We urge President
Saleh to initiate a full transfer of power and arrange for presidential
elections to be held before the end of then year.
"The Yemeni people have suffered enough and deserve a path towards a better
In Sanaa this week, a months-old standoff between loyalist troops and forces
backing anti-Saleh protesters erupted into a full-blown battle that killed
more than 100 people in five days.
Yemen, one of the region's poorest, also faces a worsening insurgency by al
Qaeda militants, an uneasy truce with Shi'ite fighters in the north and
separatism in the south.
Moments after state television's announcement of Saleh's return, Sanaa's
streets erupted with bursts of gunfire and fireworks. Shelling occurred in
the capital's Hasaba district.
Saleh called for a cease-fire so that talks could be held.
"I return to the nation carrying the dove of peace and the olive branch,"
state television quoted Saleh as saying.
Opponents saw his return as an attempt to rally for war and said they
expected more bloodshed, while his supporters reacted with joy and said he
could restore order.
"I'm so excited," said Akram al-Aghbari, a doorman. "He is an honourable and
great man. I know he's coming to stop this terrible violence. People here
without him only know how to rule with weapons, but with him back, just you
Abdulghani al-Iryani, a political analyst and co-founder of the Democratic
Awakening Movement, said violence lay ahead.
"This is an ominous sign. Returning at a time like this probably signals he
intends to use violence to resolve this. This is dangerous," said Iryani.
"His people will feel that they are in a stronger position and they will
refuse to compromise. Basically this means the political process is dead in
Thousands gathered at a pro-Saleh rally waving flags, beating drums and
honking horns. Radio stations played celebratory music and a TV newsflash
warned people not to fire into the air in celebration in case stray bullets
In Sanaa's 70 square, a hub for pro-government Yemenis, the imam leading
prayers said: "The president returned, the heart beat of Yemen returned,
happiness returned, love returned, logic returned."
Many Yemenis thought they had seen the last of Saleh when he flew to Saudi
Arabia in June for medical treatment after a bomb explosion at his palace
left him with severe burns.
Saleh had been involved in negotiations mediated by Gulf states to leave
office, repeatedly promising to step down only to change his position at the
The United States said on Friday it wanted Saleh to sign the accord promoted
by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
"I can't believe he came back. He shouldn't have come back," said Yasser, a
hotel cleaner. "Us regular people, we are so sick of all of them: the
opposition and the government. Can't they see they're going to ruin this
Two members of Saleh's General People's Congress party denied opposition
statements that his return spelled the end for the Gulf-brokered power
transfer plan, which would see him hand interim power to Vice President
Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
"This initiative remains effective and Hadi will continue the dialogue to
create a binding mechanism to implement the Gulf initiative," Yasser
al-Yamani told al Jazeera television.
The Gulf initiative envisages Saleh standing down three months after signing
it. He has agreed three times to earlier drafts of the deal only to back out
of it at the very last minute.
A high-level negotiator, who declined to be named, told Reuters he had not
expected Saleh's return, but that dealing with the president face-to-face
might make negotiations easier.
Regional power Saudi Arabia, which shares a porous 1,460 kilometre border
with Yemen, has been a key player in Yemen for decades, offering support to
Saleh's government to keep al Qaeda at bay and spearheading regional talks
on a power transfer.
Saleh stayed in a lavish, marbled palace in Riyadh.
Some analysts say Saudi Arabia might not have let Saleh return unless a deal
"I'm sure he talked of his return with (Saudi Arabia's) King Abdullah during
their meeting (on Monday night)," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, an analyst and
partner at Cornerstone Global consultants in London.
"The Saudis would want that if he goes, then any transition of power is in
their interests and doesn't bring about an anti-Saudi government. If there
wasn't anything for them they wouldn't have let him go."
Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdbullatif al-Zayani flew to
Sanaa this week to try and resurrect the deal but left after two days with
nothing to show for his efforts.
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam; Writing by Reed Stevenson; Editing
by Ralph Gowling; McDowall and Isabel Coles; Editing by Peter Graff)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Fri Sep 23 2011 - 16:17:56 EDT