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YEMEN: President returns to his troubled land

September 23, 2011 | 12:01 pm

Yemen 2 
REPORTING FROM CAIRO AND SANA, YEMEN -- Nearly four months after he was severely wounded in an assassination attempt, President Ali Abdullah Saleh made a surprise return to Yemen on Friday in a risky attempt to assert control over a nation convulsed in protests against him and tipping toward civil war.

Saleh's arrival was a dramatic gamble by a leader skilled at brinkmanship. But it was unclear whether he could save his presidency or calm the escalating factional fighting gripping his impoverished country. He called for negotiations and a cease-fire but offered no hint that he would step down, a demand called for by hundreds of thousands of protesters since January.

"The solution is not in the mouths of rifles and guns, it is in dialogue and stopping bloodshed," the Defense Ministry quoted Saleh as saying. He was expected to address the nation Sunday.

Saleh reportedly returned to Yemen before dawn after months of recuperating in Saudi Arabia from serious burns suffered in June during a rocket attack on his compound.

His sudden reappearance in the capital, Sana, where more than 70 people died in violent clashes this week, most of them anti-Saleh protesters, inflamed passions of those for and against him. Gunfire rattled and fireworks exploded as his supporters poured into the streets waving his pictures and his detractors vowed to force his resignation.

The president did not make his intentions known and it was uncertain if his presence would dim or improve the chances for a plan to transfer power backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

"His return does not mean anything to us," said Khaled Khalani, an anti-government protester, who like many feared the president's return would spark more fighting. "We want him to leave power. I will not stop protesting until he is gone."


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--Jeffrey Fleishman and Zaid al-Aalayaa

Photo: Anti-government protesters pray during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana, the capital. Credit: Khaled Abdullah / Reuters