President Saleh vows to return to Yemen ‘soon’

SANAA – Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Tuesday he would return home "soon" from his convalescence in Saudi Arabia after an assassination attempt and accused the opposition of hijacking a protest movement that is demanding he quits.

In a speech broadcast live to a gathering of tribesmen loyal to Saleh, he invited the opposition to go to the ballot box to end Yemen's political crisis, which has dragged into its seventh month.

"See you soon in Sanaa," said Saleh at the end of his speech, which was watched by an audience of some 6000 tribesmen in the Yemeni capital.

Saleh, who looked in visibly better health than in his last televised appearance from a hospital in Riyadh, attacked the opposition parties and tribesmen who have sided with them as "highway robbers" and "opportunists" and told protesters their movement had been hijacked.

"There is a political party in the opposition whose slogan claims it is the party of Islam. What Islam? They have distorted Islam," he said in reference to leading opposition party, the Islamist Islah party.

A member of Saleh's ruling General People's Congress party said this week that senior Islah member Hamid al-Ahmar, who owns Yemen's Sabafon mobile network, was the "prime suspect" in the assassination attempt. Ahmar has denied involvement.

Sitting at a desk, Saleh stopped short of accusing Islah of being behind the attempt on his life.

In a markedly stronger voice than the last time Yemenis saw him, Saleh said he was prepared to hand over power "via elections, not via coups."

Saleh's tenacity has frustrated thousands of Yemenis who thought they had seen the last of him when he flew to Riyadh for medical treatment following the bomb blast at his palace mosque in June.

While long-time leaders in Tunisia and Egypt have bowed to popular demands they quit, Saleh has proved a shrewd political survivor, defying international pressure and thrice backing out of a Gulf-brokered deal to ease him out of office.

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