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Terrorism & Security

Saleh returns to Yemen at tensest time in months

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemen today after months of recuperating in Saudi Arabia. Whether his return will prolong or bring to an end the country's instability is unclear.

By Staff writer / September 23, 2011

Anti-government protesters attend a rally demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, today. Saleh unexpectedly returned to Yemen on Friday after three months in Saudi Arabia recovering from an assassination attempt, raising the risk of further violence and civil war.

Ahmed Jadallah/Reurters

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Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Sanaa today after more than three months away, and in the midst of the country's most violent week since June.

More than 100 people have died in the capital since Sunday, and many believe the fighting will intensify now that Mr. Saleh has returned, despite his immediate call for a ceasefire. Some in Yemen even warn that Saleh's return will tip the country into civil war – a possibility it's been facing for a week now.

Clashes between government troops and security forces and defected soldiers have raged for days. Tribal fighters joined in against government forces on Thursday, according to The New York Times, bringing the situation closer to where it was in June, when confused, fierce fighting in the capital also had the country on the brink of civil war. Saleh was severely wounded in June's fighting and left for Saudi Arabia to recover.

His return is "like gasoline on a raging fire," writes Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright fellow in Yemen.

Saleh's return comes at the worst possible moment for the country. Fighting has recently broken out between army units loyal to him and his family and those on the side of the uprising, while tribes backing each side have also recently begun fighting again in different parts of Sanaa.

… His presence in Sanaa is likely to galvanize people on both sides, further trenching warring interests that have already been using heavy munitions against one another.

International observers orchestrated a ceasefire on Tuesday in hopes of creating a window for a reform process that would include Saleh ceding power, but it broke down hours later, BBC reports. Whether Saleh's declared ceasefire will stick is unclear. Many believe Saleh will turn to violence, rather than continue the negotiation process, Reuters reports.

"This is an ominous sign, returning at a time like this probably signals he intends to use violence to resolve this. This is dangerous," said Abdulghani al-Iryani, a political analyst and co-founder of the Democratic Awakening Movement.

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