Yemen Braces for Rival Protests as Saleh Leaves Intensive Care

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Yemen is preparing for rival protests Friday after officials said President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been moved out of intensive care at the Saudi military hospital where he is being treated for wounds suffered in last week's attack on his compound.

Saudi and Yemeni officials in Riyadh said Thursday that Mr. Saleh's condition had stabilized and that he would have cosmetic surgery in the coming days.

The embattled leader has not been seen since he was flown for medical treatment to Saudi Arabia.

U.S. and Yemeni officials say Mr. Saleh's wounds from the bomb attack at the presidential compound are far more severe than first disclosed, raising doubts about his return to power. But a Yemeni government website said Thursday his injuries were minor and announced that preparations for his return were under way.

Army units and loyalists in many areas of the capital, Sana'a, fired shots in the air in celebration and Yemen's ruling party said it will organize a “Friday of Loyalty” demonstration. Anti-government protesters also called supporters to take to the streets.

Yemeni authorities said government troops have killed at least 12 suspected al-Qaida members in southern Abyan province as the nation struggles with a militant Islamist insurgency in the wake of Mr. Saleh's departure.

Meanwhile, The New York Times newspaper reported that the U.S. government has intensified its covert war in Yemen in recent weeks, deploying armed drones and fighter jets to attack militant suspects seeking to exploit Yemen's turmoil.

The Times cited U.S. officials as saying that after nearly a year-long pause, the U.S. has accelerated its campaign in an attempt to keep al-Qaida-linked militants from consolidating their strength.

The report says that last Friday, American jets killed a mid-level al-Qaida operative, Abu Ali al-Harithi, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen.

Weeks before, drones fired missiles aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born Islamist cleric whom the U.S. has been trying to kill for more than a year. He survived the attack.

Mr. Saleh authorized American missions in his country in 2009, but placed limits on their scope and has said publicly that all military operations have been conducted by Yemeni troops.

Nearly 400 people have been killed since a popular uprising against Mr. Saleh began in January.