By AHMED AL-HAJ
July 8, 2011
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh staged rallies around his vacant palace Friday after their leader's first TV appearance since being injured in a blast last month and leaving for treatment in Saudi Arabia.
A video aired on state TV late Thursday showed the embattled president with bandaged hands and apparently weakened after a series of operations. Saleh backers fired weapons in celebration and at least 11 people were killed since the videotaped message.
But Saleh made no mention of when — or if — he plans to return, adding a new twist to nearly six months of rebellion seeking to topple his authoritarian regime.
The uprising has battered Yemen's economy and destabilized the Arab world's poorest nation, which is also home to one of al-Qaida's most active branches. The U.S. and others worry al-Qaida could exploit chaos in Yemen to expand its bases in Yemen.
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters also filled public squares across Yemen on Friday.
Saleh was injured in an attack on his compound and flew to neighboring Saudi Arabia for treatment on June 5 after issuing a brief audio address on Yemen state TV. His absence from the public eye since then has fueled speculation about the severity of his wounds and whether he would return to Yemen.
In Thursday's video, Saleh, in his late 60s, sat stiffly in an armchair, his face appearing darkened and with white casts covering his arms and hands.
He did not mention the U.S.-backed plan proposed by Yemen's powerful Gulf neighbors that would see him stand down in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Saleh has repeatedly refused to sign the initiative.
Gunfire rang out in cities across Yemen when appeared on TV and continued through the night.
Hospital officials said five people died from gunshots in Sanaa, along with four in the town of Ibb and at least two others elsewhere. Most of the shooting was in celebration of Saleh's appearance, but it was unclear if all the deaths were accidental.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.