Middle East

'Badly burned' Saleh appears on television


A badly burned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has appeared on television for the first time since he was wounded in an explosion at his palace in Sanaa.

A badly burned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared on television on Thursday for the first time since he was wounded in an explosion at his palace in Sanaa, urging dialogue but not saying whether he plans to return.

His face burned and his hands covered with bandages, Saleh, who has been hospitalised in Saudi Arabia since the June 3 attack, was barely recognisable and sat stiffly as he spoke in the pre-recorded statement broadcast on Yemeni television.

Speaking from Riyadh, Saleh said he had undergone "more than eight successful operations from the burns sustained in the accident" and called for dialogue.

"Where are the men who fear God? Why don't they stand with dialogue and with reaching satisfactory solutions" for all Yemenis, asked the veteran president, who has been the target of anti-regime protests since January.

"We welcome participation within the constitution and law and based on democracy," said the 69-year-old.

"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 four months of anti-regime protests that have left at least 200 people killed across Yemen, saying repeatedly that under the constitution he should serve out his current term of office which expires in 2013.

"The Yemeni people will stand defiant against all challenges that target their security, stability, freedom and democracy," Saleh said.

He thanked Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who has come under domestic and international pressure to assume power during the president's absence, "for his efforts in bridging gaps between all political parties" in Yemen.

He also thanked Saudi officials including King Abdullah who have "offered us full attention and care."

Uncertainty has prevailed over Saleh's health, given that he had not been seen in public since the attack amid conflicting reports about his condition.

Eleven people were killed and 124 others were wounded, among them senior officials in last month's bomb explosion.

Saleh accused "elements of terrorism" and elements "linked to the terrorists" of having targeted him in the attack, without sayying who he was referring to.

"We will face challenge with challenge," Saleh said.

He did not say whether he will return to power or to Yemen.

"Some have misunderstood democracy, carrying out wrong acts such as blocking roads, cutting off fuel... and undermining security," said Saleh.

The unrest has led to shortages in electricity, water, food and fuel, amid charges that elite Republican Guard troops led by Saleh's son Ahmed are preventing supplies from entering Sanaa.

A UN mission visiting the impoverished country said on Wednesday that Yemen needs urgent international aid to head off a humanitarian crisis.

The Common Forum, a parliamentary opposition alliance, has repeatedly held Saleh's regime responsible for the shortages.

It has also accused the regime of carrying out "collective punishment" against the people.

Saleh's speech lasted only a few minutes and fireworks lit up the sky in Yemen and celebratory gunshots were heard in Sanaa when Saleh appeared, an AFP correspondent there said.

Medics at a field hospital in Sanaa's "Change Square" where anti-Saleh protesters have camped since February told AFP that one man was accidentally killed when gunshots were fired in the air.

The shooting came despite an earlier warning by the interior ministry.

"The interior ministry warns Yemenis not to fire gunshots in the air to express their happiness at President Ali Abdullah Saleh's health and his speech to the people this evening," read a statement on Yemen television.

Saleh's speech came on the anniversary of the invasion by his northern Yemeni troops of the formerly independent South Yemen, leading to unification.

Thousands of supporters of the separatist Southern Movement protested in the south's regional capital Aden chanting anti-unity slogans, witnesses said.

"Revolt, revolt south!" they chanted. "My country is the south and its capital is Aden."

Similar protests took place in the southern provinces of Lahij, Shabwa and Daleh.

Southerners complain of discrimination by Sanaa in distributing resources since north-south unification in 1990. The south broke away in 1994, sparking a brief civil war that ended with the region being overrun by Saleh's troops.