President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned Friday to the Yemeni capital after more than three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia in a surprise move that could further enflame violence between forces loyal to him and his opponents.
Saleh left Yemen for Saudi Arabia in June after he was seriously injured in an attack on his presidential compound in the capital Sanaa. During his absence, the country further slipped into chaos after the protests that erupted in February demanding an end to his 33-year old rule.
But the violence took a serious turn this week after a regionally-sponsored, U.S.-backed deal to transfer power hit a new snag, according to CBS News.
The president's return, just hours ahead of planned antigovernment protests in the capital and other major cities across the country, immediately sparked clashes in San'a, according to residents there. By early morning, battles were taking place in at least four sections of the city, according to residents. Yemeni state media said that Mr. Saleh's supporters would be gathering later in the day for demonstrations to show their loyalty.
Western and regional officials agree that Mr. Saleh's return could prove a dangerous tipping point in the months-long battle for power in the impoverished country. Both U.S. and Saudi officials have been lobbying the leader over the summer to accept an immediate handover of power, says Wall Street Journal.
Amnesty International said that since February, 200 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured in protests in Yemen "as security forces have repeatedly used excessive force, including by firing live ammunition at peacefully gathered protesters."
Government officials have repeatedly denied accusations of excessive use of force, and said the government is committed to establishing a peaceful transfer of power.
Yemeni officials have said forces cracked down on those committing acts of violence during protests, informs CNN.