Middle East

Yemen: Parties deny holding talks as Saleh recovers

Anti-government protesters in Sanaa, 7 June
Image caption Protesters are keeping up pressure for an orderly transition of power

Yemen's ruling party has denied having held talks with the opposition bloc since President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Abdul Hafiz al-Narhari, deputy head of information at the General People's Congress, said no discussions with the Joint Meeting Party had taken place.

Earlier, sources told the BBC officials were attempting to end the impasse over a deal for the president to step down.

Mr Saleh was badly wounded in a rocket attack on his Sanaa compound on Friday.

Sources close to the 69-year-old leader said he might need months to recover from burns that reportedly cover 40% of his body. But they also said he was in good spirits.

The government had announced he would return within a week.

On Wednesday, fireworks were left off over the capital, triggering rumours that the president was already in the country.

It could have been an attempt by the government to show support for Mr Saleh, the BBC's Lina Sinjab in Sanaa reports.

Our correspondent adds that, nevertheless, Mr Saleh does have many supporters, hundreds of whom took to the streets of the city holding his pictures.

Friday's attack on the presidential compound killed seven people and also wounded the prime minister, his deputy and the speaker of the lower house of parliament. They are in Riyadh with Mr Saleh.

Presidential council call

On Wednesday morning, sources told the BBC that officials from the General People's Congress and Joint Meeting Party - which includes the Islamist Islah party, socialists, Nasserists and some newer independent parties - had met for the first time.

The sources said the participants hoped to find a political solution to the crisis, which began in January with protesters demanding the president's resignation but escalated in the past fortnight with government forces and heavily-armed tribesman involved in pitched battles in the capital.

Image caption Mr Saleh's injuries are more serious than originally thought

More than 200 people were killed in the fighting between security forces and supporters of Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation.

At least 350 others have died in the ongoing crackdown by the authorities and Saleh loyalists on protesters.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), which brokered a deal for Mr Saleh to hand over power to his deputy within a month in return for immunity from prosecution, were also said to be pushing for a resolution.

But on Wednesday evening, several officials within the General People's Congress told the BBC that there had not been any talks. They said there would not be any while the president was not in the country.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtani also denied the report of a meeting.

Meanwhile, thousands of people attended a rally outside the residence of Vice-President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, Yemen's acting leader, calling on him to form a presidential council to seek a solution.

Security forces dispersed the crowd. Witnesses say soldiers beat up and arrested a number of demonstrators, and dismantled tents erected there on Tuesday.


Otherwise, correspondents say life is returning to normal in Sanaa, as a ceasefire was holding between the government and Sheikh Ahmar.

The US and other Western powers have called on Mr Saleh not to return to Yemen, amid fears that the crisis might make it easier for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an active offshoot of the militant network, to operate.

On Tuesday, the army said it had killed dozens of Islamist militants, including an AQAP leader, in the southern coastal town of Zinjibar.

A local official said 15 soldiers had been killed in the battles for control of the town seized by militants some 10 days ago.

On a visit to Egypt on Wednesday, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said he was relieved that relative calm had returned to Sanaa.

"I would certainly urge leaders from every side of this challenge to be calm and try to resolve the issues peacefully," Adm Mike Mullen said.