5 Jun 2011

Wounded leader said to be going to Saudi Arabia

6:54 am on 5 June 2011

Arab news organisations say President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, who was wounded in a rocket attack on his palace, is going to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Citing Yemeni and Saudi sources, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya said Mr Saleh was on his way to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

However, deputy information minister Abdo al-Janadi has denied the reports.

Sources have told the BBC Mr Saleh was wounded when a mosque inside the presidential compound was hit by at least three rockets on Friday afternoon. Seven of his guards were killed.

The BBC said it was told by ''sources close to the president'' that Mr Saleh had a piece of shrapnel almost 7.6 cm long under his heart.

He also has second-degree chest and face burns.

The prime minister and five other officials are already in Saudi Arabia for treatment.

Mr Saleh is under pressure to hand over power to his deputy in return for an amnesty from prosecution.

He has agreed to sign on several occasions, but then backed out. He has been in power for 32 years.

Leaving Yemen, even for medical care, would make it hard for him to retain power.

More than 160 people have been killed in fighting since 23 May, which has brought Yemen to the brink of civil war.

No appearance in public

The president broadcast an audio message on Friday saying he was well. But he did not appear in public.

In the broadcast, Mr Saleh blamed the attack on an ''outlaw gang'' of his tribal foes - an accusation denied by Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar of the Hashid tribal federation, whose fighters have been clashing with security forces.

The BBC reports the Ahmar family has been financing the opposition and helping sustain protesters, who have been demanding Mr Saleh's resignation since January.