SANAA, Yemen – President Ali Abdullah Saleh addressed the Yemeni people Sunday for the first time since returning to the increasingly volatile nation, calling for direct elections but not making any direct pledge to step down.
The embattled president, who has been the target of more than six months of anti-government demonstrations, has been loath to transfer power. He has backed away from inking a power-transfer deal at least three times, even though leading ruling party and opposition politicians signed it in late May.
Saleh seemed to be in good health, though his head and neck were covered in what appeared to be an attempt to conceal injuries he suffered in a bomb attack on his compound in early June.
Saleh’s return after nearly four months of recuperation in Saudi Arabia comes amid an escalation of violence in the Yemeni capital. For months, parts of the capital, Sanaa, have been under the control dissident tribesmen and troops that have defected.
Last week, an attack on a protest march ignited fierce clashes between government forces and their armed opponents. More than 150 people have been killed over the past week, including dozens of civilians and unarmed demonstrators.
Saleh reiterated support for an internationally backed Gulf Cooperation Council-mediated power transfer initiative that offers the president legal immunity in exchange for his resignation.
The speech presented little that was new. Saleh offered vague commitments to a political dialogue and transfer of power. Keeping a calm tone, he hit out at his opponents, dismissing them as power-hungry opportunists and tying them to al-Qaida.
“This bloodbath will not get you power,” he said.
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