Friday, 8 July 2011

In his first public appearance, President Saleh calls for partnership with opposition

Source: New York Times


President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen appeared on television Thursday for the first time since he was injured in a bombing of his presidential compound’s mosque a month ago.

The prerecorded broadcast from Saudi Arabia, where he has been recuperating since the attack, showed him speaking with difficulty, with a red Saudi headdress and a darkened face from the severe burns he suffered.

Mr. Saleh, who remained seated, said, “I underwent eight surgical operations.” Both of his arms were bandaged and did not move. It was unclear precisely when the message was recorded.

Mr. Saleh’s televised appearance comes amid growing political uncertainty in the impoverished nation and appeared likely to embolden Mr. Saleh’s supporters while angering the thousands of protesters still massed in the streets of the capital, Sana, calling for him to resign. After the speech, supporters in the capital and cities around Yemen celebrated with fireworks and bursts of gunfire.

His appearance seemed aimed at bolstering those supporters and dispelling rumors that he had succumbed to his wounds. He made no mention of when — or if — he would return to Yemen.

“Terrorists and elements connected with terrorists targeted me,” Mr. Saleh said. The attack left dozens wounded including his prime minister, and at least seven were killed.

“But we and the Yemeni people will stand firm, and we’ll face the challenges,” the president said. “We welcome the partnership and dialogue with all political parties and all forces, but in the framework of the Constitution.”

The content of his address stuck mostly to his previous positions. More notable was the televised sight of Mr. Saleh, a defiant and clever political manipulator whose image is reproduced on posters around Yemen.

His facial skin appeared dark, possibly scared by burns or covered over by makeup to conceal injuries, and he had a beard in addition to his signature moustache. A senior Yemeni official who was briefed on Mr. Saleh’s health said last week that the president’s injuries would leave him unfit to perform his duties for months.

Mr. Saleh’s relatives, who continue to claim he will return to power, have moved to fill the leadership vacuum left by the attack on the presidential palace, saying that their continued control was necessary to prevent Islamist militants from seizing control of the country.

Mr. Saleh’s departure to Saudi Arabia has yet to create the transition political opponents, the United States and even some governing party members are pushing for. Instead, his absence has prolonged a crisis that has left the economy in tatters and a security situation that has rapidly deteriorated. To some of Mr. Saleh’s opponents, his televised appearance signaled that he might not return to Yemen.

"We congratulate his family and his supporters and lovers for getting reassured about his health, and his appearance must be a serious step for transferring power,” said Hasan Zaid, a member of the council of opposition parties. “Saudi Arabia would not have allowed such an appearance if it were not for arrangement of power transfer.”

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