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Yemeni forces attack main opposition camp

Sep 24, 2011, 12:13 a.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

About 11 fighters were killed in those clashes, medics said.

Opponents saw Saleh's return as an attempt to rally for war and said they expected more bloodshed, while his supporters reacted with joy and said he could restore order.

"I'm so excited," said Akram al-Aghbari, a doorman. "He is an honorable and great man. I know he's coming to stop this terrible violence. People here without him only know how to rule with weapons, but with him back, just you watch."

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."

SIGNING NEEDED

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.

Two members of Saleh's General People's Congress party denied opposition statements that his return spelled the end for a Gulf-brokered power transfer plan, which could 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 would likely be implemented so that Saleh steps down at a new presidential election. 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, bank rolling Saleh's government to keep al Qaeda at bay and spear heading regional talks on a power transfer.

Some analysts say Saudi Arabia might not have let Saleh return unless a transfer deal favorable to Riyadh was likely.

But Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdbullatif al-Zayani flew to Sanaa this week to try and resurrect the deal and 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; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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