World

Yemenis cheer departure of wounded leader

Thousands of anti-government activists cheered and sang songs Sunday in a central square of Yemen's capital to celebrate news that their country's embattled president departed the country.

Embattled president to return 'within days'

Anti-government protesters filled a central square in the Yemeni capital after hearing that President Ali Abdullah Saleh travelled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)

Thousands of anti-government activists cheered and sang songs Sunday in a central square of Yemen's capital to celebrate news that their country's embattled president departed the country.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh  travelled to Saudi Arabia overnight for medical treatment after he was wounded in a rocket attack on his compound in Sanaa on Friday. Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi said Saleh would return to assume his duties after his treatment.

Vice-President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was acting as temporary head of state, al-Janadi added.

As he settled into his new role, Hadi offered to withdraw troops from the neighbourhood in Sanaa with the most fighting, Reuters reported. Hadi also met with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Michael Feierstein, the strongest indication yet that he is in charge.

Medical officials say Saleh underwent successful surgery Sunday at a military hospital in Riyadh to remove jagged pieces of wood from his chest.

Elsewhere in Yemen, dozens of gunmen attacked the presidential palace at the country's second largest city, witnesses said. One attacker and four soldiers died in the latest fighting in Taiz, according to officials.

The United Nations is investigating reports that about 50 people have died in clashes between pro-reform demonstrators and security forces since last Sunday in the southern city.

The attackers who acted on Sunday belong to a group set up recently to avenge the killing of anti-regime protesters at the hands of President Saleh's security forces.

The president was wounded by a piece of shrapnel that rested under his heart and suffered second-degree burns to his face and neck, the BBC reported, though Yemeni officials said his injuries were only minor.

At least five senior government officials were also injured in the attack, which left 11 bodyguards dead.

Yemen's conflict began as a peaceful uprising that the government at times used brutal force to suppress. It transformed in recent weeks to a more violent struggle for power when former tribal allies of Saleh turned against him and transformed the streets of the capital Sanaa into a war zone.

With files from The Associated Press