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Yemen broadcasts audio speech by wounded Saleh as he fights to keep power

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Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who suffered minor injuries in an attack on the presidential palace on Friday, said in a brief speech that an “outlaw gang” of his tribal foes instigated the assassination attempt.

Speaking only via audio in a televised speech, Mr. Saleh blamed the attack on the powerful Hashed tribe led by Sadeq al-Ahmar who has been battling Mr. Saleh loyalists in Sana’a.

“I salute our armed forces and the security forces for standing up firmly to confront this challenge by an outlaw gang that has nothing to do with the so-called youth revolution,” Mr. Saleh said, according to Reuters. “Seven officers were martyred. We will follow these culprits sooner or later in cooperation with all security services.”

Mr. Saleh said seven people were killed in the attack on the presidential compound, which state media said was an explosive device shot into a mosque within the presidential compound.

The 65-year-old president suffered minor injuries but is in “good health,” the deputy information minister earlier told a news conference. In Sana’a, thousands have fled for safety, the latest escalation in an uprising against Mr. Saleh’s rule that began in January.

An official in the ruling General People’s Congress party said earlier Mr. Saleh was “lightly wounded in the back of his head” in the attack, according to Agence-France Presse.

President Saleh has overcome a myriad of challenges to his nearly 33 years as leader of an unruly and poor country of 24 million people that has endured civil war, uprisings and militant campaigns.

Yemen edged perilously close to civil war this week as forces of the Hashed tribal group clashed with troops loyal to Mr. Saleh in the capital and elsewhere.

Yet he remains in office, clinging to a power base that effectively only extends to the borders of the capital city, Sana’a.

If Mr. Saleh has been a determined survivor, he has also been a charismatic and often popular ruler who understood well the workings of Yemeni society, according to Reuters.

Born in 1942 near Sana’a, he received only limited education before joining the military as a non-commissioned officer.

His first break came when President Ahmed Al Ghashmi, who came from the same Hashed tribe as Mr. Saleh, appointed him military governor of Taez, North Yemen’s second city. When Mr. Ghashmi was killed by a bomb in 1978, Mr. Saleh replaced him.

In 1990, an array of domestic and regional circumstances propelled North Yemen under President Saleh and the socialist South Yemen state into a unification that Saudi Arabia at first opposed.

He angered Riyadh by staying close to Saddam Hussein during the 1990-1991 Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, leading to the expulsion of up to a million Yemenis from Saudi Arabia. Before the crisis, Kuwait had given Yemen financial aid.

But Mr. Saleh then won plaudits from Western powers for carrying out economic reforms drawn up by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and made efforts to attract foreign investors.

He swept to victory when southerners tried to secede from united Yemen in 1994 and drew closer to Saudi Arabia, which he allowed to spread its radical Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam.

(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: abeer.tayel@mbc.net)