Yemen leader 'heavily burned in blast'
Sanaa - President Ali Abdullah Saleh was burned over 40% of his body and suffered bleeding in the brain from last weekend's attack on his palace, US officials said, indicating his wounds were worse than initially reported. The revelation casts doubts on a quick return to Yemen and spells a deepening power vacuum.
In the wake of Saleh's evacuation to Saudi Arabia for treatment, Yemen's violence escalated, with government troops battling Islamic militants and opposition tribesmen in two southern cities on Tuesday.
The military said it killed 30 militants who were among a group that took over the city of Zinjibar last week amid the country's turmoil.
The United States fears that al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen - one of the terror network's most active, blamed for two attempted anti-US attacks - will take advantage of the chaos to strengthen its base in the country.
Washington and Saudi Arabia are pushing Yemeni officials to seize the opportunity of Saleh's evacuation to immediately begin a transfer of power and formation of a new government. The US ambassador in Sanaa spoke with Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is acting president, to press the American view, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday in Washington.
Toner said he wasn't sure how long Saleh would undergo treatment in Saudi Arabia, or whether he still planned on returning. But he said Yemen needed to move forward in the meantime.
"We need to see all sides moving forward on a constructive basis," he said.
Friday's attack on Saleh's palace compound came amid two weeks of battles in Sanaa between government forces and opposition tribesmen determined to drive him from power. The fighting pushed the impoverished country closer to civil war after four months of street protests by hundreds of thousands of Yemenis failed to oust Saleh, who has been in power for nearly 33 years.
On Monday, Hadi said Saleh, in his late 60s, was improving after a series of operations in Saudi Arabia and would return home "within days." If Saleh were to return, it would almost certainly re-ignite the fighting in the capital, which is only barely being contained by a Saudi-brokered cease-fire.
But the revelations by US officials suggested Saleh was in no condition to return soon. Three officials said Saleh, in his late 60s, had burns over 40% of his body and bleeding in his skull. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Yemeni officials have said Saleh suffered heavy burns on his face, neck and chest. One of the operations in Saudi Arabia was to remove wood fragments embedded in his chest.
Yemeni officials have said a rocket hit a mosque in the presidential palace compound where Saleh and his senior leadership and several hundred others were praying. At least 11 guards were killed and more than 150 people wounded.
The strike was a devastating blow to Saleh's top circle of power.