Yemen president wounded in palace attack but 'well'

3rd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded on Friday when dissidents shelled a mosque in the presidential compound, as Yemen teetered towards civil war and Washington urged a peaceful transition of power.

A leader of the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) party told AFP that Saleh was "lightly wounded in the back of his head."

In an audio statement broadcast late Friday on state television, Saleh who was being treated at the defence ministry hospital in Sanaa said, "I am well, in good health," and added that the bombardment had killed seven people.

Earlier, three officers of the elite Republican Guard were reported to have been killed.

Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar also suffered burns to his face, while a source close to the presidency said deputy premier General Rashad al-Alimi was "critically wounded."

Officials said the wounded also included parliament chief Yahya al-Raie, Saleh's private secretary Abdo Burji, Abdulaziz Abdulghani, head of Yemen's consultative council, GPC MP Yasser al-Awadi, Sanaa Governor Noman Duweik and the mosque's imam.

The attack was blamed by officials on powerful dissident tribesman Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, whose fighters have been battling government forces since a truce crumbled on Tuesday.

"The Ahmar (tribe) have crossed all red lines," GPC spokesman Tariq al-Shami said.

Saleh in his message hit out at "the sons of Al-Ahmar," a reference to Sheikh Sadiq and his brothers, and called on "the security forces to purge state institutions of these gangs."

Washington condemned the violence.

"The United States condemns in the strongest terms the senseless acts of violence today in Yemen, including the attack against the presidential palace compound in Sanaa as well as other attacks in Sanaa and throughout the country," a White House statement said.

"We call on all sides to cease hostilities immediately and to pursue an orderly and peaceful process of transferring political power as called for in the GCC-brokered agreement," it said, referring to the regional Gulf Cooperation Council bloc.

Saleh, who has been in power in Sanaa since 1978, has faced nationwide protests against his rule for the past four months.

Last month when Saleh refused to sign a GGC plan for him to step down in return for immunity, opposition tribesmen seized public buildings in Sanaa, sparking clashes with troops loyal to the president.

Britain intensified calls for its citizens to leave Yemen "immediately while commercial flights are still operating," Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

The European Union activated a mechanism to evacuate its citizens and called for an "immediate ceasefire" in Yemen, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.

Friday's mosque attack came as fighting that has killed scores of people in north Sanaa spread to the capital's south.

Suhail TV, a channel controlled by Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, Sheikh Sadiq's brother, had said Saleh was killed.

Later on Friday, Yemeni troops, who have deployed heavy weaponry in their battle against the tribesmen since Tuesday, shelled Sheikh Hamid's home.

Shelling in Hada neighbourhood also targeted the homes of their two other brothers Hemyar and Mizhij, and that of dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

Sheikh Hamid spoke to AFP by phone and accused Saleh of orchestrating the mosque attack as an "excuse to shell and destroy my home and the homes of my brothers Hemyar and Mizhij and that of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in an attempt to drag Yemen into civil war."

Saleh last month ordered the arrest of the 10 Ahmar brothers, all sons of Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar who was the president's main ally until his death.

Artillery and heavy machine-gun fire rocked the Al-Hassaba neighbourhood of northern Sanaa where Sheikh Sadiq has his base, witnesses said.

They said the headquarters of national airline Yemenia was burnt down.

Hundreds of anti-Saleh demonstrators gathered at Change Square for a day of solidarity with Taez, south of Sanaa, where security forces this week smashed a months-long sit-in protest at a cost of more than 50 lives.

As on past Fridays, the Muslim day of weekly prayers, a large crowd of Saleh supporters also gathered near the presidential palace.

In Taez, clashes on Friday killed four soldiers and two protesters, a security official told AFP.

Two protesters were killed and 30 others were wounded by live rounds, while four soldiers were killed and 20 were wounded, said the official who added that some demonstrators were armed.

An AFP photographer said soldiers clashed with demonstrators at Al-Huriya (Liberty) Square.

More than 60 people have now been confirmed killed in the fighting in Sanaa since a fragile four-day truce collapsed on Tuesday between Ahmar's tribesmen and troops loyal to Saleh.

Nationwide, more than 200 demonstrators have been killed since the protests erupted, according to an AFP tally based on reports from medics.

© 2011 AFP

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