Saleh's speech ignites deadly protests

At least 11 people dead in Yemen in protests that erupted a day after injured Ali Abdullah Saleh broke his silence.

    Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni anti-government protesters rally in the city of Ibb, saying that a badly burned President Ali Abdullah Saleh is "politically dead". [AFP]

    A televised speech late Thursday by badly burned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh set off rival protests across Yemen on Friday that left at least 11 people dead, according to reports.

    In Sanaa's abandoned presidential palace, where Saleh was seriously injured in a June 3 bomb attack, thousands of loyalist gathered to celebrate what they called a "Friday of Thanks" after the leader's brief appearance on state-run television.

    The supporters chanted pro-government slogans, among them "The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh".

    Hospital officials said most of Friday's shooting was in celebration of Saleh's address but it's unclear if all the deaths were accidental, the Associated Press reported. The officials said five people died from gunshots in the capital, four in the town of Ibb, and at least two others elsewhere.

    Tens of thousands of anti-Saleh protesters also rallied on Friday in response to the speech, declaring the 69-year-old leader "politically dead"and denouncing Yemen's alleged dependence on the United States and Saudi Arabia.

    In video

    Ameen Al Himyari, a Yemeni professor, talked to Al Jazeera about the impact of the president's speech

    "Saleh's appearance was meant to boost his loyalists' morale and to pressure the opposition to accept his son and relatives in political life in Yemen," Mohammed al-Asal, a member of the youth revolt's information committee, told the AFP news agency.

    While recovering in a Riyadh hospital, Saleh has clung to power despite international pressure and six months of protests against his 33-year rule.

    His family and inner circle continue to hold vital security and energy portfoliios and he is said to retain significant support among some powerful tribal leaders.

    But Saleh's opponents continue to grow in strength, bolstered by high-level defections from military leaders and prominent clerics and politicians.

    At least 200 protesters have died in the uprising while the country and its impoverished economy remain paralysed by daily protests and violence.

    Even so, Saleh's appearance has left his opponents to assume he has no intention of stepping down anytime soon.

    "His speech didn't offer anything new. It's the same thing he used to say before the attack. You don't feel there's any real commitment to transferring power, but rather that the situation is heading back to square one," a leader of Yemen's main opposition bloc told Reuters.

    Saleh did not suggest any timeframe for a return to Yemen, only saying he had undergone eight operations. One analyst was quoted as saying that Saleh may not be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia even if he is healthy enough to go.

    "I think we need to start considering whether Saleh is a guest or prisoner, and will he be able to return to Yemen at all," Theodore Karasik, director of research and development at Middle East think tank INEGMA, told Reuters.

    The speech and ensuing protests come amid increased concern that Yemen's restive southern provinces have been overrun by Islamic fighters, notably the local arm of al-Qaeda. Opponents of Saleh claim he has deliberately let those factions take over Yemen's south to play on fears of an expanding security threat. 

    "He avoided talking about al-Qaeda which strengthens the conviction that he has surrendered the southern provinces to elements of [al-Qaeda]," Mohammed Ghalib Ahmed, an opposition leader, told Reuters.

    In recent months, fighters have seized two cities in the southern province of Abyan, including its capital,
    Zinjibar, according to reports. Some 54,000 Yemenis have fled Abyan since then, a government official in charge of refugee affairs said last week.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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