July 17, 2011
Tens of thousands of people in Yemen have rallied in the country's two largest cities to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the 33rd anniversary of his autocratic rule.
Protesters in the southern city of Taiz waved black flags to mark Sunday's anniversary of Saleh's rise to power in 1978. Opposition activists also chanted anti-Saleh slogans in a main square of the capital, Sana'a, where they have been camping out for months to try force him out of office.
Saleh has been receiving treatment in a Saudi hospital since suffering severe burns in a June 3 bomb attack on his presidential compound. The bombing also wounded his prime minister, the Sana'a governor and the chairman of Shura Council, a branch of Yemen's legislature.
Yemen's state news agency says the president visited the three wounded officials at the Saudi hospital on Sunday, and expressed happiness about what it calls the "constant progress in their health." Saleh has rejected protesters' demands to step down immediately, insisting that he should lead a transition to more democratic system of government.
It is not clear when he will return to Yemen, which has been led in his absence by his deputy, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Islamist militants have taken advantage of Yemen's political turmoil by seizing two towns in the southern province of Abyan in recent months. Yemeni government forces have been trying to recapture the towns, including the provincial capital, Zinjibar.
Yemeni officials said Sunday local tribes have agreed to join forces with the Yemeni military to try to drive out the Islamists, whom the government says have links to al-Qaida. The officials say the alliance has allowed the government to send its first reinforcements to the military's 25th brigade, which had been under siege by Islamists near Zinjibar for weeks.