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Yemeni president vows to return home soon while fighting north of capital kills 33
SANAA, Yemen (AP) ' Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed Tuesday to return home from Saudi Arabia, a move which could set off a violent new phase in the impoverished country's six-month uprising seeking to topple his regime.
Security across Yemen has collapsed during the revolt, with al-Qaida-linked militants controlling entire towns in the country's south and anti-government tribes clashing with security forces elsewhere. In just the past two days, at least 33 were killed in two days of fighting north of the capital, medical officials said.
Saleh, Yemen's ruler for 33 years, has maintained power throughout the uprising despite massive protests, defections by military commanders, growing international pressure to transfer power and a bomb attack on his palace that left him badly injured. He has been in neighboring Saudi Arabia recovering from severe burns and other wounds since June 5.
Speaking Tuesday in a televised address from the Saudi capital, Saleh vowed to return home, telling his supporters: "See you soon in Sanaa." He also lashed out at his opponents, calling them, "exploiters, war merchants, and street looters."
Saleh, who only last week left the hospital in Riyadh, appeared to be in better shape compared to his first appearance after the attack, when he looked stiff and frail.
Other than the medical white gloves covering his burnt hands, Saleh seemed to have recovering. His face appeared to have healed from the burns, and he moved comfortably and confidently in front of the camera.
Saleh didn't refer to a power-transfer deal ' backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. ' which offers him immunity from prosecution if he steps down. The Yemeni leader has three times agreed to the deal, put forward by Arab Gulf states, only to back out on each occasion at the last minute.
The proposal would see Saleh transfer power to his deputy, who would then call presidential elections.
On Tuesday, Saleh said he is willing hand over power to his vice president if the armed tribal fighters who support the protesters are pulled from the streets and the opposition ends its demonstrations.
The opposition has rebuffed past overtures from Saleh, calling them insincere, and it was not immediately clear whether it would take the president's offer seriously this time.
Security forces have repeatedly clashed with anti-government tribesmen during the uprising, with some of the fiercest fighting taking place north of Sanaa.
Medical officials said Tuesday at least 33 were killed in fighting in the past two days in the Arhab region.
Tensions between Arhab tribes and Saleh have turned violent since the start of the uprising. The tribes accuse the government of indiscriminately shelling their villages and killing civilians. The government claims the tribesmen are linked to al-Qaida.
The recent clashes broke out Monday when government forces in tanks and armored vehicles tried to raid a number of Arhab villages and local fighters mobilized to keep them out, said eyewitness Kamal Salami.
He described the government advance as "total war" and said it is the regime's most violent strike in the region in months.
A military official confirmed the raids but did not comment on army casualties.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.