Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh addressed his nation on Sunday for the first time since he returned to the country after an assassination attempt, The Associated Press reported.
According to the report, Saleh, who returned to Yemen last Friday, made no promise to immediately step down but said he is committed to a deal to end months of spiraling violence in the country.
Saleh, who appeared to be in improved health after nearly four months of treatment in Saudi Arabia for severe burns and other injuries he suffered in a June 3 attack on his compound in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, said, “The crisis is big. You who are chasing power, let’s all go to the ballot boxes.”
The statement seemed to suggest holding elections in Yemen rather than Saleh’s agreeing to step down.
Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 33 years, is under tremendous pressure from street protesters and neighboring Arab nations to transfer power to end the country’s deepening crisis, which has killed hundreds since anti-government demonstrations began.
He has several times signaled that he intends to sign a U.S.-backed deal to step aside in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but has repeatedly backed out of the deal at the last minute.
In Sunday’s televised address, Saleh claimed he was committed to the deal. However, while he has tasked his vice president with overseeing negotiations on the deal, at no point in his address did he provide any indication he might agree to demands to step down immediately.
The opposition in Yemen was all over Saleh’s speech, with spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri telling AP, “Saleh gave a speech full of contradictions. There are very clear demands for Saleh: cease violence, quickly transfer power and sign the deal.”
For his part, Saleh accused his opponents of cooperating with the Al-Qaeda terror group and said they were plotting a coup and shedding blood in an attempt to seize power.
“Al-Qaeda is completely supported by the outlaw elements who are against constitutional legitimacy,” AP quoted him as saying. “They supplied them (Al-Qaeda) with information and financial and military support.”
He also insisted on taking the country to early presidential and parliamentary elections, and hinted at the possibility of returning to the Saudi kingdom “to continue treatment and recuperating in the coming months.”
Meanwhile, the violence raged in Yemen on Sunday: AP reported that in the mountainous villages of Arhab outside Sanaa, Republican Guard forces shelled villages in which anti-Saleh tribes reside, killing two people and wounding six.
In the southern city of Taiz, one soldier and one tribesman were killed when fighters attacked security forces in retaliation for the bombing of the house of an anti-Saleh tribal leader.
In Sanaa itself, AP reported, Saleh’s forces opened fire on protesters in the heart of the city, injuring at least 18 people.