Yemen officials deny president has left country

Ali Abdullah Saleh (20 May 2011) The extent of President Saleh's injuries is unclear

Yemeni officials have denied President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left the country, a day after he was injured in an attack on his compound in Sanaa.

Unconfirmed reports earlier said that Mr Saleh had flown to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Saleh had some shrapnel near his heart and second-degree burns on his chest and face, sources told the BBC.

The president aired an audio message on Friday saying he was well. But he has not appeared in public and there remains speculation over his condition.

In the broadcast, Mr Saleh blamed the attack on an "outlaw gang" of his tribal foes - an accusation denied by Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashid tribal federation, whose fighters have been clashing with security forces.

Start Quote

President Saleh is in a stable condition. He is just tired after yesterday's attack”

End Quote Hisham Sharaf Yemeni Minister of International Co-operation

Tribal officials later said that 10 people were killed and 35 others were injured overnight when government troops shelled the Hassaba area, where Sheikh Ahmar's brother Hamid is based. Some reports now say that Sheikh Hamid himself was injured.

The Ahmar family has been financing the opposition and helping sustain protesters, who have been demanding Mr Saleh's resignation since January despite a crackdown that has left at least 350 people dead.

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

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

More than 160 people have been killed in the fighting that began on 23 May and brought Yemen to the brink of civil war.

Surgery needed?

Mr Saleh and several senior officials were praying at the al-Nahdayn mosque inside the presidential compound in the south of Sanaa on Friday afternoon when it was hit by at least three rockets, officials said. Seven presidential guards were killed.

Yemenis watch state TV in Taiz (3 June 2011) State TV has aired only the audio message from the president, accompanied by an old photograph

Yemen's Minister of International Co-operation, Hisham Sharaf, told the BBC that the president had received light injuries to his head.

But there were reports that the injuries might have been more severe.

Sources close to the president told the BBC that Mr Saleh had a piece of shrapnel almost 7.6cm (3in) long under his heart and that it was puncturing his lungs.

The sources added that it was unclear whether the president needed surgery.

Mr Saleh was taken to a military hospital and not discharged until late on Friday. By Saturday morning, state television was still airing only his audio message, accompanied by an old photograph.

Mr Sharaf also said the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Yahya al-Rai, was seriously wounded, while several other senior officials were also hurt, including Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar, the speaker of the upper house, Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani, and Mr Saleh's security adviser.

The Saba news agency said Mr Mujawar, Mr Rai, Mr Abdul Ghani, Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi and the security adviser, who was in a serious condition, were later flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment.

Yemen's Ahmar family

  • Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar is the overall leader of the Hashid tribal confederation, one of the two main tribal groupings in Yemen
  • His father Abdullah Bin Hussein al-Ahmar - who died in 2007 - founded the Islamist Islah opposition party
  • Sheikh Sadeq's brother Hamid al-Ahmar is a prominent businessman and leading member of Islah. He has repeatedly called for Mr Saleh's resignation
  • Another brother, Sheikh Hussein Bin Abdullah al-Ahmar, resigned from President Saleh's Governing People's Council on 28 February over the shootings of protesters

Then, reliable sources told the BBC that President Saleh had also gone to Saudi Arabia for treatment, or possibly even for good.

But Deputy Information Minister Abduh al-Janadi and sources in the president's office insisted that the reports were untrue.

A source close to the Saudi royal family also denied Mr Saleh was there. He told the Reuters news agency that the Yemeni leader had "no intention of leaving".

Tanks and security checkpoints remain in place across the capital, with a number of roads blocked. Some residents have been out in the streets getting urgent supplies, but the atmosphere remains very tense.

"Bullets are everywhere, explosions terrified us. There's no chance to stay any more," one man told the Reuters news agency.

After Friday's rocket attack, government forces intensified their assault on the northern Hassaba district, the location of Sheikh Ahmar's compound and several government buildings occupied by the tribesmen.

The United States, the European Union and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have all called for an immediate ceasefire.

Sanaa map

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