Yemen president in Saudi for treatment, not quitting
SANAA - Youths celebrated Sunday what they said is the fall of Yemen's regime after beleaguered President Ali Abdullah Saleh, hurt in a blast inside his compound, left the country for treatment in Saudi Arabia.
"Today, Yemen is newborn," sang dozens of youths in Sanaa's University Square -- dubbed "Change Square" -- the epicentre of anti-regime protests that have raged against Saleh's rule since January.
"This is it, the regime has fallen," others chanted.
Saleh, wounded by an explosion as he prayed at a mosque inside his presidential compound on Friday, was transferred to Saudi Arabia late on Saturday, but has not stood down, a Saudi official said.
"President Saleh has arrived in Riyadh for treatment, but he will return to Yemen," the official said late on Saturday.
In Sanaa, a presidential palace source only confirmed the departure of Saleh, who under the constitution is to be replaced by Deputy President Abdel Rabbo Mansur Hadi in his absence.
Saleh, 69, has refused to give up the power he has held for nearly 33 years despite four months anti-regime protests inspired by popular revolts that toppled autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
His security forces have waged a brutal crackdown on the protests and he has repeatedly refused to sign a plan brokered by the Gulf Arab monarchies, headed by Saudi Arabia, for a peaceful transfer of power.
The embattled president arrived aboard a Saudi medical aircraft and was immediately taken to Riyadh's military hospital, while a second plane carried members of his family, the Saudi official said.
His eldest son Ahmad, commander of the elite Republican Guard, remained in Yemen. The opposition says Ahmad was preparing to take over from his father before the popular uprising started.
He was wounded on Friday when a blast hit the presidential palace's mosque during prayers, killing 11 and wounding 124 people, according to a government official.
In an audio statement broadcast on state television late Friday as he was being treated at the defence ministry hospital in Sanaa, Saleh said he was "well, in good health."
Saleh suffered "burns and scratches to the face and chest," an official said after the ruling General People's Congress said he was "lightly wounded in the back of the head."
His regime has blamed the attack on powerful dissident tribal leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, whose fighters have been battling government forces in the Yemeni capital since a truce crumbled on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar and four other senior Yemeni officials wounded in the shelling of the presidential compound were also transferred to Saudi Arabia for treatment, Yemen's state news agency Saba reported.
Saleh, in power in Sanaa since 1978, hit out in his broadcast at "the sons of Al-Ahmar" -- Sheikh Sadiq and his brothers -- and urged "the security forces to purge state institutions of these gangs."
After Friday's attack on the presidential compound, Yemeni troops shelled the home of Sheikh Hamid, a brother of Sheikh Sadiq, killing 10 people and wounding 35.
Shelling in Hada neighbourhood also targeted the homes of two other Ahmar brothers, Hemyar and Mizhij, and that of dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
On Saturday, sporadic shelling and rocket fire killed one person and wounded dozens in Al-Hassaba district of northern Sanaa where Ahmar has his base, after Saleh vowed to hit back following the mosque attack.
A source close to Sheikh Sadiq said the powerful tribal chief was "committed to a ceasefire based on mediation efforts led by Saudi King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz despite the continuous shelling" by Saleh forces.
In the flashpoint city of Taez, the commander of the 33rd armoured division, General Yahya al-Hashidi, joined the protesters calling for Saleh to quit, a military official told AFP.
The parliamentary opposition on Saturday called for an "immediate" ceasefire and condemned "the dangerous twist which the clashes have taken in targeting the homes of citizens, the presidential palace, and vital installations."
After Saleh last month refused to sign the Gulf accord, opposition tribesmen seized public buildings in Sanaa, sparking clashes with Saleh forces that killed at least 70 people.
More than 200 demonstrators have been killed in Yemen since the anti-Saleh protests erupted, according to an AFP tally based on reports from medics and rights activists.