Yemen arrests suspects over attack on Saleh

Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:05pm EDT
 

By Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen said on Monday it had arrested several people suspected of trying to kill President Ali Abdullah Saleh whose country, torn by protests against his rule and other conflicts, stands on the brink of civil war.

Efforts to broker an exit for Saleh -- forced to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia for burns and shrapnel wounds suffered in an attack on his palace 10 days ago -- have so far failed.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that Saleh had thanked Saudi King Abdullah for the care he had received, and quoted Saleh's doctor, Mohammad al-Sayani, as saying the president's health was "good and constantly improving."

Political paralysis and long-standing conflicts with Islamist insurgents, separatists and rebel tribesmen have fanned Western and regional fears of Yemen collapsing into chaos and giving al Qaeda a stronghold alongside oil shipping routes.

Those conflicts flared anew in two of Yemen's southern provinces, including one whose capital has fallen to Islamists leading to a round of fighting that has driven most of its population to flight.

Saleh's party newspaper said several people suspected of involvement in an attempt to kill him had been arrested and were being questioned, in an apparent reference to the attack that wounded Saleh and members of his cabinet.

It said interrogation had revealed "important, grave" facts "related to al-Mushtarak" -- an element of the Arabic name for the Joint Meetings coalition of opposition parties seeking his immediate departure. The paper gave no further details.

The report followed the collapse of another attempt -- with U.S. and European backing -- to resolve Yemen's political crisis, when Saleh's deputy ignored the opposition's demand that Saleh renounce all claim to power immediately.

CEASEFIRE HOLDS

A member of the opposition coalition that met vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said he declined to discuss the president's fate with them.

"Security, food and electricity issues were discussed," said Sultan al Atwani, referring to shortages that have almost paralysed the capital since fighting between Saleh's forces and a general who turned on him.

"The political side was not discussed, because the other side said it still needed time and was preoccupied with those matters, as well as the ceasefire," he said.

The collapse last month of a Gulf-brokered deal to nudge Saleh from power led to two weeks of fighting between his forces and those of General Ali al-Mohsen al-Ahmar that engulfed the capital, killed at least 200 people and forced thousands to flee.

The office of tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar put the death toll at 100 and the number of wounded at 325 between May 23 and June 4.

A ceasefire has held in Sanaa since Saleh left the country after the June 3 attack on his palace. But fuel, electricity and water shortages are acute, and violence in southern Abyan province -- whose capital Zinjibar Islamist gunmen seized last month -- has worsened.

A security source in Zinjibar said the army killed two al Qaeda militants and wounded several on Monday, while one soldier was killed and seven wounded.

Saleh's opponents have accused him of handing Zinjibar to Islamists to foment unrest and reinforce his threat that the end of his three-decade rule would amount to ceding the region to al Qaeda.

THOUSANDS DISPLACED

Yemen's government is struggling to provide medicine and other essentials to people who have fled Zinjibar.

At least 10,000 have taken refuge in Aden, many of them now housed in schools. The U.N. children's agency UNICEF warned last week that the number of displaced might hit 40,000.

Fresh clashes broke out in the southern province of Taiz on Monday after the army advanced on militants who attacked them and destroyed several armored vehicles, a local official said.

Opposition parties have said they will form their own transitional assembly within a week if Saleh does not stand down. It is not clear whether they have any significant influence over many of the protesters.

Saudi medical sources and Yemeni officials said Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Megawar and another cabinet member injured in the palace attack had undergone further surgery and were in serious condition.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Mahmoud Habboush in Dubai; Writing by Joseph Logan; editing by Tim Pearce)