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The president delivered an audio address hours later, his voice labored, with only an old photo shown. His failure to appear in public despite repeated promises raised speculation that his injuries were more severe than acknowledged.
Saleh’s arrival in Saudi capped a flurry of conflicting reports about his whereabouts and condition that spread after Yemeni government officials and opposition tribal leaders said Saudi King Abdullah had mediated a cease-fire and invited Saleh to seek treatment in the kingdom. Past cease-fires have not held, but no fighting was reported in Sanaa on Saturday.
Yemen’s constitution calls for the vice president to take over in the absence of the president, and it appeared that Vice President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi was in charge. Saleh also has been widely believed to be grooming his son, Ahmed, as a successor. Ahmed was believed to have stayed behind in an apparent bid to hold on to power.
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, spoke with the Yemeni vice president by telephone on Saturday, a White House official said, but offered no details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
An activist and a witness, meanwhile, said military forces in the southern port city of Aden had withdrawn from checkpoints. Elsewhere in the south, armed gunmen stormed buildings in Taiz, prompting protesters to form committees to try to keep the peace.
Worried their peaceful movement was being co-opted, protesters in Taiz and the capital, Sanna, joined forces to issue a statement demanding the formation of a transitional council comprising civilians “whose hands are not stained with blood.”
Friday’s rocket attack was the first direct strike against Saleh in nearly four months of protests that had prompted a fierce crackdown by government forces.
Sheik Mohammed Nagi al-Shayef, a tribal ally, said he met the president Saturday evening at the Defense Ministry compound in the capital.
“He suffered burns, but they were not serious. He was burned on both hands, his face and head,” al-Shayef told The Associated Press. He said Saleh also was hit by jagged pieces of wood that splintered from the mosque pulpit. About 200 people were in the mosque when the rocket landed.
Through the pre-dawn hours Saturday, government and opposition forces exchanged rocket fire, damaging a contested police station. The rockets rained down on streets housing government buildings that had been taken over by tribesmen.
Since violence erupted in the capital on May 23, residents have been hiding in basements as the two sides fight for control of government ministries and hammer one another in artillery duels and gunbattles, rattling neighborhoods and sending smoke billowing into the air.
The temporary calm also spread to the southern city of Taiz, where the Republican Guard brigade that had occupied the streets quietly left town and returned to base.
Taiz had been a focal point of anti-Saleh activism since the uprising began. The Republican Guard left Saturday without giving a reason after having violently cleared protest camps there last week.
An official from the Republican Guard’s 33rd brigade said gunmen clashed with the brigade overnight, destroying three of their vehicles. Meanwhile, officers and prominent city residents pressured Brig. Gen. Jibrah al-Hashidi to stop opposing the protesters, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under military rules.
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