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Yemen's Saleh calls for early elections

Sep 25, 2011, 11:05 a.m.
A still image taken from video shows Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaking during his first televised speech since he returned to Yemen after more than three months in Saudi Arabia, September 25, 2011. REUTERS/Yemen TV via Reuters TV

HIGH STAKES

The U.N. Security Council urged Yemen on Sunday to allow more access to humanitarian aid. Doctors treating protesters have complained they are running low on medicine and the International Committee of the Red Cross says its workers have been threatened and assaulted.

Anxiety is high in Sanaa as sporadic clashes break out across the city and residents construct roadblocks in the hope of stopping gunmen.

Protesters have grown even more wary of Saleh's intentions after some 17 people were killed on Saturday when government forces attacked their camp in Sanaa, according to witnesses and medics, bringing the death toll in five days of fighting to around 100.

Analysts fear that a slide toward anarchy in the unruly Arabian Peninsula state could further embolden a wing of al Qaeda based there and endanger Western interests in the Gulf and oil shipment routes through the Red Sea.

Saleh's arrival in Sanaa came despite the entreaties of Western and Gulf states for the leader to end his 33 years in power. The European Union's Catherine Ashton condemned the violence and called on Saleh to sign the Gulf-brokered power transition plan.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who had hosted Saleh during his recovery from the June assassination attempt, also called for the adoption of the Gulf plan.

"We call on all sides to show self restraint and reason to prevent the risk of Yemen sliding into more violence and fighting," King Abdullah said in published remarks. "We believe that the Gulf initiative is still the only way out of the Yemeni crisis."

Saleh, 69, has not yet announced his intentions since coming back to Yemen, but said on Saturday he was "carrying the dove of peace and the olive branch."

"It's funny he says he came with the olive branch. He's the enemy of the people," said Abdulqawy Noaman, a professor at Sanaa University who was shot in the leg.

The U.N. Security Council urged Yemen on Sunday to allow more access to humanitarian aid. Doctors treating protesters have complained they are running low on medicine and the International Committee of the Red Cross says its workers have been threatened and assaulted.

Protesters accuse Saleh, his family and the government of widespread corruption and failing to address crippling poverty and lawlessness in a land where one in two owns a gun.

The demonstrators are backed by powerful forces including the elite leaders of the al-Ahmar clan that heads Yemen's large tribal confederation the Hashed.

The support gives them financial backing for food and equipment, but many say it also makes them pawns of powerful elites who once were part of Saleh's government.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Writing by Angus McDowall and Amran Abocar; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

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