More unrest in Yemen over Saleh's future role

Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the capital yesterday in parallel protests - one demanding the country's wounded leader surrender any claim to power, another calling for his return.

The rival demonstrations over the fate of president Ali Abdullah Saleh, forced abroad for surgery after an attack on his palace a week ago, highlighted the volatility of a country which western nations and neighbouring Saudi Arabia fear could slip into chaos and give al-Qaeda a regional foothold.

Thousands of anti-Saleh demonstrators filled Siteen Street in the heart of the capital, Sanaa, demanding Mr Saleh formally hand over power to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the acting president.

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Near the presidential headquarters, a smaller group of Saleh supporters gathered after Friday prayers to urge his return to a country wracked by months of demonstrations demanding his removal amid a violent crackdown.

Mr Saleh, Yemen's ruler for three decades, has not been seen in public since being flown to Saudi for surgery after last Friday's mortar attack on his palace.

US officials have said Mr Saleh, 69, suffered 40 per cent burns to his body, making it unlikely he will return anytime soon.

But after months of factional violence and pro-democracy protests, he has resisted western and Arab pressure to step down.

A ceasefire has held in Sanaa since Mr Saleh left. More than 200 people have died and thousands have fled in the past fortnight as his troops clashed with forces loyal to tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar. Opposition parties have told Mr Saleh's ruling General People's Congress party they would form a provisional government if he doesn't quit within a week.