|A pro-opposition soldier waves a flag reading “A thousand congratulations” as protesters in Sana'a celebrate what they said was the fall of Yemen’s regime after president Ali Abdullah Saleh left the country for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia|
The president, prime minister, speakers of both houses of parliament, and several senior officials, were wounded in an attack on the presidential place on Friday, but how seriously is not known.
As Mr Saleh reportedly underwent surgery, Abdo al-Janadi, the deputy information minister, told Al Jazeera television that his powers had devolved to the vice-president, Abdo Rabu Mansur Hadi, “until the president returns.”
“The state has its institutions that can deal with these kinds of circumstances,” Mr al-Janadi said. “Constitutional procedures will be followed.”
Protesters in the central city of Taiz launched fireworks and sang songs throughout the night in Freedom Square, a week after it was burnt and bulldozed by the army.
“The reaction to Saleh departure was spontaneous as huge marches went out in the city and people fired fireworks to celebrate the event,” said activist Bushra al-Maqtari from Taiz. “Everyone is happy for the departure of the president.”
But although predictions of a rapid escalation of Yemen’s violence into an all-out civil war following Friday’s attack, Saturday have proved unfounded so far, western governments fear extremists such as al-Qaidia in the Arabian Peninsula will take advantage of the chaos.
President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, held talks with ken with Mr Hadi about events in Yemen on Saturday, the White Hose said.
Mr Brennan visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last week to discuss the crisis in Yemen.
William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, told the BBC he was “very worried” about the threat to Britain if Yemen descending into chaos, describing it as “a much more serious threat’’ to UK national security.”
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University, said it was difficult to predict what bearing the departure of so many senior figures would have until their condition was better known.
After four-months of anti-government protests, pro-regime forces have been locked in deadly clashes with tribal gunmen for over a week and the situation in Sana’a is increasingly unclear. The fighting combat that engulfed much of the capital on Friday has waned significantly, although the gunfire could still be heard, witnesses said on Saturday. Witnesses reported renewed gunfire in the city central city of Taiz on Sunday.
There were unconfirmed reports on Sunday that many top ministers and government officials, along with their families, were spotted trying to board flights from the capital’s airport, suggested that the regime’s stalwarts have lost control of the situation.
Local media reports that members of Mr Saleh’s family, which includes leaders of Yemen’s most powerful security organs, had also fled the country by air, likewise could not immediately be confirmed.
A representative of several powerful army units that have defected from the military in recent weeks delivered an official statement expressing concern that the political situation not give way to violence. “We renew our commitment to a peaceful revolution,” said former defence minister Abdullah al-Alleiwah.
There had been growing speculation about the condition and whereabouts of Mr Saleh on Saturday as the government repeatedly denied reports that he was travelling to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after being wounded in the attack on his palace.
Mr Saleh, sounding weary, gave a brief audio address on Yemen’s state television on Saturday, leading to speculation about the severity of his injuries.
The Saudi-backed al-Arabiya news channel was reporting that Mr Saleh was in a military hospital in Riyadh Saturday night with wounds in the neck and chest, and that he had arrived late Saturday along with 35 other people also injured in the palace attack.
“His excellency the president agreed [to be moved] and expressed his desire to complete treatment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” a Saudi statement said
Additional reporting by Roula Khalaf