June 4, 2011 in Nation/World

Yemen’s leader injured

Tribal rebels attack palace grounds
Ahmed Al-Haj Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Yemeni army soldiers stand guard next to the site of a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Friday in Sanaa, Yemen.
(Full-size photo)

SANAA, Yemen – President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded when rebellious tribesmen struck his palace with rockets Friday, targeting him for the first time in a dramatic escalation of fighting that has turned parts of the capital into a battleground and pushed Yemen toward civil war.

One of the rockets smashed into a mosque on the palace grounds where the president was praying along with his top leadership. It was a stunning hit on the regime’s most senior figures: Among the nine wounded were the prime minister, Saleh’s top security adviser and the two heads of parliament, as well as the cleric leading prayers. Seven guards were killed.

Officials said Saleh had only slight injuries – Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi spoke only of “scratches to his face.” But there were indications the injuries may have been more severe. Saleh, in his late 60s, was taken to a Defense Ministry hospital, while officials promised repeatedly that he would soon appear in public. But by late Friday, state TV had aired only an audio message from the president, with an old still photo.

“If you are well, I am well,” Saleh said in the brief message, addressing Yemenis. He spoke in a labored voice, his breathing at times heavy. He blamed the rocket attack on “this armed gang of outlaws,” referring to the tribal fighters.

The bold assault directly on the president is likely to heighten what has been an increasingly brutal fight between Saleh’s forces and the heavily armed tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar. Since violence erupted May 23, Sanaa residents have been hiding in basements as the two sides fight over control of government ministries and duke it out with artillery and gunbattles.

The bloodshed comes as nearly four months of protests and international diplomacy have failed to oust Yemen’s leader of 33 years.

The White House called on all sides to stop the fighting, which has killed more than 160 people.

“Violence cannot resolve the issues that confront Yemen, and today’s events cannot be a justification for a new round of fighting,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Washington fears that the chaos will undermine the Yemen government’s U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaida’s branch in the country, which has attempted a number of attacks against the United States. Saleh has been a crucial U.S. ally in the anti-terrorism fight, but Washington is now trying to negotiate a stable exit for him.

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