Yemen officials deny president has left country

Yemeni officials have denied President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left the country,
a day after he was injured in an attack on his compound in Sanaa.

Unconfirmed reports earlier said that Mr Saleh had flown to Saudi Arabia.Mr Saleh had
some shrapnel near his heart and second-degree burns on his chest and face, sources toldthe BBC.The president aired an audio message on Friday saying he was well. But he
has not appeared in public and there remains speculation over his condition.In the
broadcast, Mr Saleh blamed the attack on an “outlaw gang” of his tribal foes – an accusation
denied by Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashid tribal federation, whose fighters
have been clashing with security forces.Tribal officials later said that 10 people were killed
and 35 others were injured overnight when government troops shelled the Hassaba area,
where Sheikh Ahmar’s brother Hamid is based. Some reports now say that Sheikh Hamid
himself was injured.The Ahmar family has been financing the opposition and helping sustain
protesters, who have been demanding Mr Saleh’s resignation since January despite a crackdown
that has left at least 350 people dead.Western and regional powers have been urging Mr Saleh to
sign a Gulf Co-operation Council-brokered deal that would see him hand over power to his
deputy in return for an amnesty from prosecution.He has agreed to sign on several occasions,
but then backed out.More than 160 people have been killed in the fighting that began on 23 May
and brought Yemen to the brink of civil war.Surgery needed?Mr Saleh and several senior officials
were praying at the al-Nahdayn mosque inside the presidential compound in the south of Sanaa on
Friday afternoon when it was hit by at least three rockets, officials said. Seven presidential guards
were killed.Yemen’s Minister of International Co-operation, Hisham Sharaf, told the BBC that the
president had received light injuries to his head.But there were reports that the injuries might have
been more severe.Sources close to the president told the BBC that Mr Saleh had a piece of shrapnel
almost 7.6cm (3in) long under his heart and that it was puncturing his lungs.The sources added that
it was unclear whether the president needed surgery.Mr Saleh was taken to a military hospital and
not discharged until late on Friday. By Saturday morning, state television was still airing only his
audio message, accompanied by an old photograph.Mr Sharaf also said the speaker of the lower house
of parliament, Yahya al-Rai, was seriously wounded, while several other senior officials were also hurt,
including Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar, the speaker of the upper house, Abdul Aziz Abdul
Ghani, and Mr Saleh’s security adviser.The Saba news agency said Mr Mujawar, Mr Rai, Mr Abdul Ghani,
Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi and the security adviser, who was in a serious condition, were
later flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment.Then, reliable sources told the BBC that President Saleh had
also gone to Saudi Arabia for treatment, or possibly even for good.But Deputy Information Minister
Abduh al-Janadi and sources in the president’s office insisted that the reports were untrue.A source
close to the Saudi royal family also denied Mr Saleh was there. He told the Reuters news agency that
the Yemeni leader had “no intention of leaving”.Tanks and security checkpoints remain in place across
the capital, with a number of roads blocked. Some residents have been out in the streets getting urgent
supplies, but the atmosphere remains very tense.”Bullets are everywhere, explosions terrified us. There’s
no chance to stay any more,” one man told the Reuters news agency.After Friday’s rocket attack,
government forces intensified their assault on the northern Hassaba district, the location of Sheikh
Ahmar’s compound and several government buildings occupied by the tribesmen.The United States,
the European Union and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have all called for an immediate ceasefire.

More Middle East stories

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