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Yemen leader's speech sparks deadly celebrations

At least four Yemenis were killed during the celebration of the supporters of President Ali Abudalah Saleh's first television appearance since he was badly burned in a bombing

AFP , Friday 8 Jul 2011
Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in his first public appearance since he was injured last month in a blast at his palace compound. (Photo:AP)
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Gunfire killed four people during celebrations sparked by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's first television appearance since he was badly burned in a bomb attack more than a month ago, medics said.

One man was accidentally killed when Saleh supporters fired guns into the air in Sanaa, said a medical official at a field hospital in the capital's "Change Square" -- where anti-regime protesters have been camped since February.

Twenty others were wounded, the official told AFP late on Thursday.

Gunshots also rang out in the city of Ibb, south of the capital, killing three people and wounding at least eight others, medical officials said.

Saleh, whose absence since the bomb blast at his presidential palace has raised speculation over his real health condition, finally appeared on Yemeni television on Thursday.

His face burned and his hands covered with bandages, Saleh, who spoke from a hospital in Saudi Arabia where he has been receiving medical treatment, was barely recognisable and sat stiffly as he spoke in the pre-recorded statement.

Saleh said he had undergone "more than eight successful operations from the burns sustained in the accident" and accused "elements of terrorism" and elements "linked to the terrorists" of having targeted him in the attack, without saying who he was referring to.

The embattled president was wounded as he prayed at a mosque inside his presidential compound on June 3 and was flown to Riyadh the day after for treatment in a military hospital.

Eleven people were killed and 124 others wounded in the attack, among them senior officials.

Medical officials in the Saudi capital told AFP last week that Saleh's doctors had warned him from appearing on television, saying his health might suffer "an undesirable setback."

During his televised speech, Saleh made no mention of any plans to return to Yemen, only saying: "We will face challenge with challenge."

But the Yemeni leader, in power since 1978, urged dialogue from his sickbed.

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

"We welcome participation within the constitution and law and based on democracy," he said, sticking to his previous position in Gulf-led talks that failed to secure a peaceful power transition.

"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 seven 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.

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

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