(Updates with state media retracting report of al-Matari death in fifth paragraph.)
June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh escaped serious injury in the shelling of his palace compound in the capital, Sana’a, one of his ministers said, as the conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation intensifies.
It wasn’t immediately clear who attacked the compound. Crude oil for July delivery fell on the New York Mercantile Exchange to $98.12, the lowest intraday price since May 24, after Al Arabiya television carried a report by the opposition broadcaster Suhail that Saleh had been killed while trying to escape from the presidential palace. Contracts recovered to $99.97 a barrel at 1:38 p.m., down 43 cents from yesterday’s settlement price.
“The president is fine,” Minister of Industry and Trade Hisham Sharaf said in a telephone interview from his home. “I saw him. He has some scrapes on his head.” Sharaf said he was in the courtyard of the palace mosque during the attack. Sharaf said he saw Saleh taken away by car “to a safe place.”
The Cabinet will meet today “to take all measures to respond to this,” the minister said.
Parliamentary Speaker Yahya al-Raiee was seriously wounded and Prime Minister Ali Mujawar and one of his deputies were also hurt, Sharaf said. Imam Ali Mohsen al-Matari survived the attack with injuries, state-owned Saba news agency reported, after earlier saying he was killed. A number of other officials and officers were wounded, Saba reported.
“One would expect a counter escalation,” Sheila Carapico, professor at Richmond University in Virginia, said in a telephone interview from Cairo. “That’s why this is dangerous. It will almost certainly provoke the forces that he and his family command to strike back.”
Fighting in Sana’a between Saleh’s security forces and supporters of Sadiq al-Ahmar, leader of the Hashid, Yemen’s most influential tribe, entered a fifth day after the breakdown of a truce mediated by tribal leaders. Government supporters attacked protesters in the southern city of Taiz.
Saleh’s party called the attack an “assassination attempt” and a statement carried by Saba news agency called for investigations. It didn’t accuse anyone by name. Sadiq al- Ahmar’s office denied any role in an e-mailed statement, saying Saleh had orchestrated the attack himself to justify crimes of the regime.
Thousands of opposition members said Friday prayers at Sana’a’s Sixty Meter Street, where protesters chanted slogans of solidarity with the residents of Taiz, the southern city where violence has also intensified. “Freedom for Taiz” and “the people want the trial of mass killers,” they shouted.
Threat From Al-Qaeda
Saleh’s government has said increasing social unrest threatens to strengthen al-Qaeda, a concern also expressed by the U.S. The group has sought to use Yemen as a base from which to destabilize neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, and for attempted attacks on international targets including two U.S. synagogues last year.
The government and the tribal group have blamed each other for breaking a cease-fire that briefly halted fighting that had raged for three days last week.
The Republican Guards, led by one of Saleh’s sons, police and armed men in plain clothes fired today on protesters in Taiz, Bushra al-Maktari, a protest organizer, said by telephone. More than 15,000 people marched in the city to condemn a government attack on anti-Saleh demonstrators that began May 29 and lasted until the early hours of May 30, she said. At least 21 people were killed in that crackdown.
Pro-government rallies planned by Saleh supporters today in Sana’a or Taiz failed to take place.
Scores of people have been killed since the conflict between Saleh’s loyalists and al-Ahmar’s men broke out last week. The violence followed Saleh’s refusal to sign a Western- backed accord brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council requiring him to give up power within 30 days.
--With reporting by Mohammed Hatem in Sana’a. Editors: Terry Atlas, Bob Drummond
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