(Updates with toll in fourth paragraph, details of deaths in 10th-12th. See EXTRA, MET for more on Middle East unrest.)
July 8 (Bloomberg) -- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, recovering in a Saudi hospital after an attack on his compound last month, called on the opposition to sit down for talks while offering no hint he’ll meet their demands for his resignation.
“Yemen’s people are defiant and will remain defiant against all challenges that threaten its stability and security, freedom and democracy,” Saleh said in a videotaped address from the military hospital in Riyadh where he was admitted June 4, a day after what Yemeni officials called an assassination attempt. His face was scorched and right arm bandaged in the video aired late yesterday by state television.
In his first public comments since being injured in an explosion at a mosque that left 11 people dead in the presidential palace, Saleh offered encouragement to his supporters amid growing turmoil and advances by al-Qaeda-linked militants in parts of the country.
At least 11 people were killed and about 200 wounded in incidents involving gunfire yesterday after Saleh’s address. Three died when government supporters fired at protesters camping at Change Square in the city of Ibb, activist Mukhtar al-Badani said by telephone. Most of the others who died had been hit by bullets fired into the air by Saleh loyalists celebrating his television appearance, medics said.
Saleh left his deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, in charge, though state media has said the president sends cables to heads of state and has discussed a plan for the transition of power proposed by the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Saleh made no mention of a possible transition and urged his opponents to halt their protests.
“We welcome partnerships based on the constitution, the constitution that ensures freedom of opinion,” he said in the address. “But blocking roads and scaring people is not what it meant, everyone needs to reconsider their position,”
Hasan Zaid, a leader of the opposition coalition known as the Joint Meeting Parties, said the speech was “an introduction for positive steps” and that it appeared Saleh was giving Hadi authorization to take over.
Khalid al-Anisi, a leader in the youth-led protest movement, described the speech as “challenging.” It showed Saleh’s “neglect to the demands of the people,” he said by telephone.
In Sana’a, the capital, one protester was killed and seven were wounded in a bombing at a protest camp, said Abdulaziz al- Tharhani, a doctor at a field clinic. About 35 others were wounded by celebratory gunfire at the camp, set up outside a university where thousands have held a sit-in since February. Mohammed Kamal, a doctor at al-Jumhuri hospital put the Sana’a toll at about five dead and 100 wounded.
In Hajja, one protester was killed and three were wounded when Saleh supporters fired at their protest camp and into the air, Ibrahim Muthana, a protest activist, said by phone.
In the port city of Hodiedah, one person died and about 20 were wounded when Saleh supporters fired guns to celebrate his television appearance, said Abdulhafiz Mujib, a protest activist.
There have been conflicting reports on the severity of Saleh’s wounds, the type of assault that took place at the palace in the capital and when the president will return.
Saleh yesterday said he has undergone eight operations and that they were all successful. He thanked those who supported him, adding that 87 people were injured in the attack by “terrorist elements.”
Pro-democracy protesters have called for an end to Saleh’s almost 33-year rule since January. Hundreds of people have died in the clashes between activists and government forces, while Yemen’s economy and security deteriorate.
The first three months of unrest cost Yemen, the poorest Arab state, $4 billion, Industry and Trade Minister Hisham Sharaf said May 24. The cost has increased and the economy “is functioning at about 60 percent,” he said June 27.
The U.S., which has been the target of al-Qaeda attacks organized from the group’s Yemen base, is pressing for Yemen to move ahead with the GCC’s plan to start a process of reform.
Saleh’s government has said the rising social unrest threatens to strengthen al-Qaeda, a concern also expressed by the U.S. Yemeni forces killed about 20 suspected members of al- Qaeda during clashes in the southern province of Abyan, Ahmed Ghalib al-Rahwi, the provincial deputy governor, said in a telephone interview June 21.
Saleh’s son, Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh, speaking in his capacity as commander of Yemen’s Republican Guard, said June 26 that the armed forces are committed to implementing Hadi’s directives, the state news agency Saba reported. He added that the armed forces will continue to respond to any “hostile” actions.
“Where are the enlightened men and why aren’t they open to negotiations?” the president said in his speech. “We are not against a partnership, but it has to be according to an agreement with all people, you can’t enforce your ideas on everybody, the arm-twisting policy is wrong and backward.”
--With assistance from Fergal O’Brien in London and Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Terry Atlas, Ann Hughey, Heather Langan, Andrew Atkinson
To contact the reporters on this story: Mohammed Hatem in Sana’a at email@example.com; Caroline Alexander in London at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.