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Yemen leader accepts Saudi offer

Yemen's embattled president has accepted an offer from the Saudi monarch to seek treatment in his kingdom after being wounded in a rocket attack, raising the possibility that he could leave the country after nearly four months of mass protests seeking to end his 33-year rule.

A flurry of conflicting reports about President Ali Abdullah Saleh's whereabouts and condition spread through the Middle East after Yemeni government officials and opposition tribal leaders said Saudi King Abdullah had mediated a cease-fire to end two weeks of deadly street battles and invited Yemen's ruler to seek treatment for burns and other wounds from the Friday attack.

Aides to Saleh said the president remained in the capital, which has grown calm for the first time after days of fighting, apparently because of the cease-fire.

For months, Saleh has defied intense pressure from his powerful Gulf neighbours and long-time ally Washington to step down. He agreed to transfer power several times, only to step back at the last moment. Should he leave the country now, he might never return, given that large segments of the population and a powerful tribal alliance could engineer his ousting while he is gone.

The extent of Saleh's injuries has been a matter of intense speculation. When the rocket struck the mosque in his presidential compound and splintered the pulpit, he was surrounded by top government officials and bodyguards. Eleven guards died, and five officials standing nearby were seriously wounded and taken to Saudi Arabia.

The president delivered an audio address afterward, his voice laboured, with only an old photo shown.

The Saudi king waded into the conflict after nearly four months of largely peaceful protests seeking to depose Saleh morphed into an increasingly bloody civil conflict. Past cease-fires have not held, and international diplomacy has so far failed.

Opposition tribesmen directly attacked Saleh for the first time when they landed the rockets on the mosque.

A secretary in Saleh's office and a ruling party official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to reporters, said Saleh spoke to the Saudi monarch afterward.

While Saleh accepted the offer of treatment, the officials said, the president's plane had not left Sanaa airport.


From Belfast Telegraph