SANA'A// Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's surprise return to Sanaa plunged the country into further chaos yesterday as his call for a truce was met by clashes between government and opposition forces.
Mr Saleh arrived early in the morning from Riyadh, where he had been recovering from severe wounds he suffered during an attack on his compound on June 3. He did not appear in public yesterday, but issued a statement through the state news agency.
He called for "all political, military and security parties at the government and opposition to a complete truce and a ceasefire to reach a compromise and reconciliation among all political forces," the Saba news agency reported.
"The solution is not in the mouths of rifles and guns, it is in dialogue and stopping bloodshed."
Officials at Sanaa airport said his plane arrived at 5am local time. Officials who requested anonymity said a helicopter flew him from the airport to the presidential compound.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated yesterday in about 17 of the republic's 21 provinces.
The demonstrators called for Mr Saleh and his family to face charges for violence against protesters. The tens of thousands gathered in Sanaa chanted: "Tell the returning mass killer, we will prosecute him."
"His return is for us a declaration of war. Instead of leaving his son to lead the battles against his people, he decided to come back and handle the situation himself," said Bushra Al Maktari, a protest activist in Taiz city.
More than 40 protesters who were killed in recent clashes were buried yesterday during funerals in Sanaa, Taiz, Ibb and Hodiedah.
"We will not be scared by his weaponry but will escalate our peaceful protests to bring him down," Ms Al Maktari said.
Tens of thousands of Mr Saleh's supporters who gathered near the presidential compound cheered his return.
Despite Mr Saleh's call for a ceasefire, clashes resumed in the capital yesterday between government security forces and forces loyal to General Ali Mohsen, the commander of First Armored Division who defected from the Saleh regime after dozens of protesters were killed in March.
In separate clashes, at least six people were killed and 22 wounded in shelling of the house of Sheikh Sadeq Al Ahmar, the leader of Yemen's most powerful Hashed confederation and his supporters in the Hasaba neighbourhood in Sanaa.
Violence has escalated after government troops and snipers killed 26 and wounded more than 300 protesters on Sunday, provoking fighting between Saleh forces and with Gen Moshen's forces protecting the camp of anti-Saleh protesters. In the past week, more than 100 people nationwide have been killed bringing the death toll to more than 440.
Mr Saleh, 69, has faced massive street protests demanding he step down since January. Demonstrations had increased this week after Mr Saleh gave powers to his vice president to negotiate and sign a Gulf-mediated deal under which he would resign in return for immunity from prosecution. But those efforts failed again and the GCC secretary general, Abdul Latif Al Zayani, left the country on Wednesday without a deal in place. Mr Al Zayani indicated that Yemen's political rivals were not ready to reach an agreement.
Mr Al Zayani was expected in New York yesterday to discuss the crisis with GCC foreign ministers and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, a Yemeni diplomat told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
The US, which backed the GCC plan, urged Mr Saleh to begin a "full transfer of power", just hours after his return.
"We want to see Yemen moving forward," the US State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said. "Whether President Saleh is in or out of the country, he can make this happen [by] stepping down from power and allowing for the country to move on."
A senior Saudi official told AFP that Mr Saleh "returned to Sanaa to put the Yemeni house in order and to prepare for elections".
The official added that Mr Saleh will "leave" after this, without specifying whether he would leave power or leave Yemen altogether.
For those outside of the protests, Mr Saleh's return was of little consequence.
"His return will not put bread on my table. We are tired and want to live. Our children are suffering and millions have lost their jobs," said Abdul Salam Habra, a public relations officer who lost his job when the protests began nine months ago.
Kareema Al Sulaihi, a web designer who lost her job in February, added: "We can't travel, we can't work, we can't study, we can't be out in the streets, why should we be celebrating? Saleh coming back will only make the country worse."
* With additional reporting by Hakim Almasmari