SANA'A // Yemen's wounded president is in good health in Saudi Arabia. How he got that way, however, is a matter of debate.
He is in good health after being released from the intensive care unit at a Riyadh hospital after serious surgery, Saudi Arabia's Saba state news agency reported yesterday.
Or, he is in good health because he was never in intensive care and never had serious surgery, as Tareq Shami, a spokesman for the ruling General People Congress party, said yesterday. In fact, President Ali Abdullah Saleh will be back in Yemen in the next few days, Mr Shami said. His vice-president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, said the same thing.
"Getting medical treatment does not mean getting surgeries," Mr Shami said. He said reports that Mr Saleh was in intensive care were opposition propaganda.
Mr Saleh is in good health simply because, as Mr Shami puts it, he is still alive after wounds he sustained last week in a rocket attack.
"His injuries are really strong but Saleh is insisting on coming back to Yemen and bringing along a strong medical team to Sana'a in order for him to continue receiving treatment in Yemen," a family member said.
Whatever his real condition, media reports about his health proved unhealthy for others.
Supporters celebrating a report that Mr Saleh had been moved out of the intensive care unit fired live ammunition into the air in Sana'a on Wednesday night, wounding about 80 people, medical sources said. Witnesses said there were also casualties in provincial towns.
Meanwhile, Yemen's opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) sent a message to vice-president Hadi: speed up reforms or step down.
The JMP warned the vice-president that they would cancel all efforts to reach a political deal if he does not respond to their demands within days.
"Time is running out and if the VP does not co-operate, the opposition will join the youth in creating a [transitional presidential council] and ask the world to recognise it," said Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesman for the JMP.
Pro-democracy youth are putting pressure on the opposition. The JMP is now facing the wrath of protesters who are calling the opposition parties hypocrites because they signed the Gulf Co-operation Council's transfer of power proposal that provides Mr Saleh, his family and colleagues immunity from prosecution.
"They sold the blood of Yemeni revolutionaries to gain political interests. Our revolution was not against Saleh. It is against anyone who dares to hurt or degrade the Yemeni people," said Shadi Kashraf, a youth leader in Sana'a.
The ruling party insists that no negotiations can take place in the absence of Mr Saleh. "He will be back soon and it will not harm the opposition to wait a couple of days," said Abdu Ganadi, the deputy minister of information.
While diplomatic efforts appear stalled yesterday, fighting continued throughout the country.
In Taiz, troops killed two members of the Eagles of Liberty, a local militia that sided with protesters.
Vigilante committees of locals and tribesmen had been deployed around most of Taiz, Yemen's second-largest city, after security forces retreated to their bases following clashes.
New fighting erupted around Zinjibar late on Wednesday, killing three soldiers and 10 suspected al Qa'eda gunmen, an officer said.
The defence ministry said 12 al Qa'eda members were killed in Abyan, among them three leading militant figures.
The militants were killed by a US drone attack, a Yemen security official in Sana'a said yesterday.
"The attack was successful and killed the heads of the militancy in Zinjibar," he said. "The Yemeni government was not aware of the attack until after it happened."
Government officials say most of the town is in the hands of the jihadists, but the opposition accuses Mr Saleh of exaggerating the al Qa'eda threat in a desperate bid to ease foreign pressure on his 32-year rule.
Witnesses said that the gunmen repeated Islamic chants.
Medical officials in Razi hospital said that more than 40 people sought treatment for gunshot or explosive wounds.
"People lay dead in the streets of the city," a medic in Razi hospital said. "Zinjibar is a ghost town with guns and explosives on every street."