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Yemeni forces attack main opposition camp

Sep 23, 2011, 5:12 p.m.
A defected army soldier waves his rifle as he shouts slogans with anti-government protesters during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa September 23, 2011. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Abdulghani al-Iryani, a political analyst and co-founder of the Democratic Awakening Movement, said violence lay ahead.

"This is an ominous sign. Returning at a time like this probably signals he intends to use violence to resolve this. This is dangerous," said Iryani.

"His people will feel that they are in a stronger position and they will refuse to compromise. Basically this means the political process is dead in the water."

"LOVE RETURNED"

Radio stations played celebratory music and thousands gathered at a pro-Saleh rally waving flags, beating drums and honking horns. A TV newsflash warned people not to fire into the air in celebration in case stray bullets hit bystanders.

In Sanaa's 70 square, a hub for pro-government Yemenis, the imam leading prayers said: "The president returned, the heart beat of Yemen returned, happiness returned, love returned, logic returned."

Many Yemenis thought they had seen the last of Saleh when he flew to Saudi Arabia in June for medical treatment after a bomb explosion at his palace left him with severe burns.

Saleh had been involved in negotiations mediated by Gulf states to leave office, repeatedly promising to step down only to change his position at the last minute.

The United States said on Friday it wanted Saleh to sign the accord promoted by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Two members of Saleh's General People's Congress party denied opposition statements that his return spelled the end for the Gulf-brokered power transfer plan, which would see him hand interim power to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

"This initiative remains effective and Hadi will continue the dialogue to create a binding mechanism to implement the Gulf initiative," Yasser al-Yamani told al Jazeera television.

The Gulf initiative envisages Saleh standing down three months after signing it. He agreed three times to earlier drafts of the deal only to back out at the very last minute.

Regional power Saudi Arabia, which shares a porous 1,460 km border with Yemen, has been a key player in Yemen for decades, offering support to Saleh's government to keep al Qaeda at bay and spearheading regional talks on a power transfer.

Some analysts say Saudi Arabia might not have let Saleh return unless a deal is likely.

"I'm sure he talked of his return with (Saudi Arabia's) King Abdullah during their meeting (on Monday night)," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, an analyst and partner at Cornerstone Global consultants in London.

"The Saudis would want that if he goes, then any transition of power is in their interests and doesn't bring about an anti-Saudi government. If there wasn't anything for them they wouldn't have let him go."

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdbullatif al-Zayani flew to Sanaa this week to try and resurrect the deal but left after two days with nothing to show for his efforts.

The United States, Saudi Arabia and other powers fear al-Qaeda's Yemen wing could exploit the growing lawlessness in the country. Al Qaeda militants have already seized cities in a Yemeni province just east of a key oil shipping channel in recent months.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam; Writing by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Ralph Gowling)

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