By Jamal al-Jabiri (AFP) – Jul 8, 2011
SANAA — Tens of thousands rallied in Sanaa on Friday to "reject" Yemen's dependence on the United States and Saudi Arabia, saying badly burned President Ali Abdullah Saleh was "politically dead" after a TV appearance.
Meanwhile, thousands of Saleh supporters staged a rival rally in the capital's southern district on what they have named "The Friday of thanks" over Saleh's health, chanting "The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh."
In Sittine Road, west of Sanaa, anti-Saleh protesters gathered carrying banners reading: "Saudis and Americans, keep out of Yemen's affairs" and "Ali Saleh is politically dead."
A similar rally took place in Yemen's second-largest city Taez, south of Sanaa.
Saleh, 69, has been hospitalised in Saudi Arabia, and out of the public eye, since he was badly injured in a bomb attack at his presidential palace last. Amid growing speculation over his condition, he finally appeared on Yemeni television on Thursday night.
His face burned and his hands covered with bandages, Saleh, who spoke from a hospital in Saudi Arabia where he has been receiving medical treatment. He was barely recognisable and sat stiffly as he spoke in the pre-recorded statement.
"Saleh's appearance was meant to boost his loyalists' morale and to pressure the opposition to to accept his son and relatives in political life in Yemen," Mohammed al-Asal, a member of the youth revolt's information committee, told AFP.
Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has faced mounting domestic and international pressure to assume power after Saleh.
But Hadi's grip on power is seen as shaky as Saleh relatives continue to run main security systems. Key among them is Saleh's son, Ahmed, who leads the elite Republican Guard
In his Thursday speech, Saleh said he had undergone "more than eight successful operations from the burns sustained in the accident" and accused "elements of terrorism" and elements "linked to the terrorists" of having targeted him in the attack, without saying who he was referring to.
Eleven people were killed and 124 others wounded in the attack, among them senior officials.
Medical officials in the Saudi capital told AFP Thursday that Saleh's doctors had warned him from appearing on television, saying his health might suffer "an undesirable setback."
During his televised speech, Saleh made no mention of any plans to return to Yemen, only saying: "We will face challenge with challenge."
But the Yemeni leader, in power since 1978, urged dialogue.
"Where are the men who fear God? Why don't they stand with dialogue and with reaching satisfactory solutions" for all Yemenis, asked Saleh, who has been the target of anti-regime protests since late January.
"We welcome participation within the constitution and law and based on democracy," he said, sticking to his previous position in Gulf-led talks that failed to secure a peaceful power transition.
"We are with the participation of all political forces, whether from the opposition or from the regime, but in the light of a plan that would be agreed upon by all Yemenis."
Saleh has refused to cede power despite protests that have left at least 200 people dead across Yemen, saying repeatedly that under the constitution he should serve out his current term of office which expires in 2013.
His speech lasted only a few minutes and fireworks lit up the sky in Yemen and celebratory gunfire was heard across the country when Saleh appeared, witnesses and an AFP correspondent in Sanaa said.
The gunfire killed four people, medics said.
One man was accidentally killed when Saleh supporters fired guns into the air in Sanaa, said a medical official at a field hospital in the capital's "Change Square" -- where anti-regime protesters have been camped since February.
Twenty others were wounded, the official told AFP late on Thursday.
Gunshots also rang out in the city of Ibb, south of the capital, killing three people and wounding at least eight others, medical officials said.
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