TAIZ/SANAA, (Reuters) – Yemen’s wounded President Ali Abdullah Saleh will stay in Saudi Arabia until doctors declare him fit, a Yemeni official said on Friday, denying reports that Saleh could come back in time for this weekend’s 33rd anniversary of his ascent to power.
Speculation about Saleh’s health and the likelihood of his return to Yemen have been rife since he flew to neighbouring Saudi Arabia for medical treatment last month following an assassination attempt.
Yemen ruling party spokesman Tarek al-Shami denied media speculation that Saleh could come back by July 17.
“That talk is not true. It is up to the doctors to decide on the date of the president’s return,” he said.
Tens of thousands of protesters have camped out daily in cities across Yemen demanding an end to Saleh’s rule.
As demonstrations drag into their sixth month, many Yemenis are frustrated they have been unable to force the shrewd political survivor out of power.
On Friday, up to 7,000 people marched through Yemen’s third city Taiz, some 200 km (120 miles) south of the capital Sanaa, which also saw large anti-Saleh protests after Friday prayers.
Protests have paralysed a number of cities, especially Taiz, where armed men siding with the opposition have clashed with government forces as Yemen’s political stalemate wears on.
In Taiz, several rounds of mortars were fired into neighbourhoods where armed supporters of the opposition were suspected of hiding, local officials said.
Residents said six civilians including a child were killed and at least seven wounded in an attack on the al-Masbah district housing a senior officer loyal to top general Ali Mohsen, who defected from Saleh in March.
The officer himself was not among those killed but his son died in the attack, residents said.
Elsewhere, armed men siding with protesters ambushed a car carrying the district’s head of security, killing him, two bodyguards and wounding three other members of his entourage, a local government official said.
While veteran leaders in Tunisia and Egypt bowed to popular demands they quit, Saleh has resisted international pressure on him to step down, leaving impoverished Yemen in political limbo.
In the north of the country, fighting between Shi’ite rebels known as Houthis and armed members of the country’s leading opposition party, the Sunni Islamist Islah, raged into their seventh day and have killed some 60 people, the pan Arab daily al-Hayat reported.
The clashes bring violence closer to neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia, which shares a 1,500 km border with Yemen. Riyadh fears unrest could spill over beyond Yemen’s territory.
In late 2009, Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive against the Houthis after they briefly seized Saudi territory. Houthi rebels have fought Saleh’s government on and off since 2004.
Anti-Saleh protests had previously united Houthis and the opposition, but rifts began to appear when armed opposition members took over military and government sites.