Middle East

Yemen: President Saleh defiant after injury

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Media captionThe BBC's Lina Sinjab watched Friday's protests in Sanaa

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has broadcast a brief audio message, hours after being injured in an attack on his compound in the capital, Sanaa.

Mr Saleh said he was well and urged the army to confront his tribal opponents, who he blamed for Friday's attack.

Seven people were killed. The prime minister and the speaker of parliament were among several injured.

The attack came amid huge demonstrations and continuing fighting between government and armed tribes.

Troops at one stage shelled the home of the brother of tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation, who is supporting the opposition.

Sheikh Ahmar's office denied responsibility for the palace attack.

Meanwhile, the European Union set in motion a procedure to evacuate its citizens, foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

The EU called for an immediate ceasefire, as did the United States.

"Violence cannot resolve the issues that confront Yemen, and today's events cannot be a justification for a new round of fighting," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

'Outlaw gang'

Mr Saleh received treatment in a military hospital, after at least two shells hit the al-Nahdain mosque inside the presidential compound, where top leaders were attending Friday prayers.

The extent of his injuries is unclear, although various reports say he received scratches, or was hit by shrapnel in the head or neck. He was not discharged from hospital until late in the evening, officials said.

Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yahya al-Rai, the speaker of the Shura Council, Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani, and several other officials were also wounded.

Officials said Mr Saleh would appear in public shortly after the attack, but it was not until more than six hours later that state TV broadcast his recorded audio message.

He urged the military to fight Sheikh Ahmar's tribal group.

Image caption Mr Saleh's message was broadcast more than six hours after he was injured

"I salute our armed forces and the security forces for standing up firmly to confront this challenge by an outlaw gang that has nothing to do with the youth revolution in al-Tahrir Square," he said. "This is nothing but arrogance and foolishness, and is a rebellious act for plundering public money and pushing citizens out of their homes.

"Seven officers were martyred. We will follow these culprits sooner or later in co-operation with all security services."

Mr Saleh also said that the attack came "in the light of mediation by several people between the state and the gang of sedition - the Al-Ahmar sons", suggesting discussion about another ceasefire could have been taking place.

Correspondents say the president spoke with a laboured voice, at times breathing heavily.

There has been heavy fighting in the northern Sanaa district of Hassaba since last week between Mr Saleh's forces and tribesman loyal to Sheikh Ahmar.

Explosions were heard in the south of the capital for the first time.

Witnesses said the army had shelled the home of Sheikh Ahmar's brother, Hamid, a leader of the opposition Islah party, in Hadda district.

After the rocket attack on the presidential compound, government forces intensified their assault in Hassaba.

Overnight, occasional gunfire and explosions could be heard in Sanaa, but it has been relatively quiet since midnight, the BBC's Lina Sinjab says. In the past few days, the explosions continued until dawn.

Also on Friday, thousands attended a funeral for 50 people killed in earlier violence, and Friday prayers were followed by huge anti-government protests.

In the southern city of Taiz, at least three members of the security forces and two protesters were killed in clashes, officials and doctors said.

It was not clear if the security forces were soldiers or police. One report said they had been killed by a rocket-propelled grenade.

A crackdown on protesters in Taiz on Sunday left more than 50 demonstrators dead.

More than 350 people have been killed since the uprising started in January, but at least 135 of them have died in the past 10 days.

Western and regional powers have been urging Mr Saleh to sign a Gulf Co-operation Council-brokered deal that would see him hand over to his deputy in return for an amnesty from prosecution.

He has agreed to sign on several occasions, but then backed out.

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