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Anti-government protests in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a.  (Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA)


8.55am: Welcome to Middle East Live.

As has become the theme of the week, Yemen looks set to be the focus for today.

But here's a round-up of the major developments across the region:

Yemen

• President Ali Abdullah Saleh has flown back to Yemen after months recovering from injuries sustained in a June attack on his compound.

The dramatic move comes at the end of a week which has seen the worst bout of violence in the eight-month uprising.

Nearly 100 people are believed to have died.

• Some protesters are predicting Saleh's surprise return will fan the flames of the unrest in the capital Sana'a.

AP reports that fighting has continued after his arrival, with heavy clashes and thuds of mortars heard throughout the night and into this morning.

The Guardian's Tom Finn writes:

The timing of Saleh's return was described to me by a Yemeni analyst who did not wish to be named as "a characteristic Saleh move," he told me that Saleh's aim is to "suddenly emerge in a time of crisis so as to appear a saviour and peace keeper."

He also speculated that Saleh would probably resign "within days" in an effort to excuse his surprise return and calm the situation.

Other believe it will have the opposite effect.

Faizah Suleiman, a female protester leader from the coordinating council at Change Square (The tented protest camp in the heart of the capital) said she expected the president's return to coincide with an even more brutal crackdown on Change Square, "if we're still alive we'll march this afternoon."

Another protester named Adel said that Saleh's reappearance was "dangerous" but would "breath new life" into the eight month protest movement which until recently was threatening to grow stale.

He said thousands of people would march through the streets who would otherwise have stayed in their houses.

The gravest concern of all is that Saleh's sudden reappearance will draw Yemen's powerful tribal leaders into the ongoing fighting.

When Saleh was airlifted to Saudi Arabia for treatment after his mosque was bombed in June, Sadeq Al-Ahmar, the grizzly-bearded sheikh at the head of Yemen's most influential tribe, the Hashed, swore "by God" that he would never let Saleh rule again.

Libya

• Muammar Gaddafi's last prime minister has been arrested in Tunisia, becoming the most senior member of the former Libyan regime to be detained since the government's overthrow.

Ian Black in Tripoli reports:

Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi was caught near the country's border with Algeria and jailed for six months for illegal entry.

He is likely to be handed over to Libya to face investigation, however, since the Tunis government recognises the new ruling NTC in Tripoli.

• The United States has reopened its embassy in Tripoli.

Speaking to journalists after the flag-raising, Ambassador Gene A. Cretz raised the subject of oil.

He told them:

We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources, but even in Qaddafi's time they were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things" [after the country had begun opening up to the West six years ago.]

If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs.

Palestinian territories

Mahmoud Abbas will submit his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood to the United Nations later today.

The Palestinian leader is expected to hand over the letter seeking to join the UN shortly before he addresses the general assembly to plead the case for admission.

You'll be able to follow all the developments in this story on a separate live blog manned by my colleagues in New York.

9.26am: Here's the latest update on Saleh's return from Tom Finn in Sana'a.

Opinions are mixed, he reports, on what the wily president- and the protesters urging him to go- will do next:

President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew back into Yemen in the early hours of this morning.

With no electricity in Sana'a, word of Saleh's arrival spread by the sound of gunfire with his supporters across the capital firing kalashnikovs and heavy artillery into the air.

Most of the streets are empty with Yemenis staying indoors for fear of being hit by stray bullets.

The timing of Saleh's return was described to me by a Yemeni analyst who did not wish to be named as "a characteristic Saleh move."

He told me that Saleh's aim is to "suddenly emerge in a time of crisis so as to appear a saviour and peace keeper."

He also speculated that Saleh would probably resign "within days" in an effort to excuse his surprise return and calm the situation.

Other believe it will have the opposite effect.

Faizah Suleiman, a female protester leader from the coordinating council at Change Square — the tented protest camp in the heart of the capital — said she expected the president's return to coincide with an even more brutal crackdown on Change Square, "if we're still alive we'll march this afternoon."

Another protester named Adel said that Saleh's reappearance was "dangerous" but would "breathe new life" into the eight month protest movement which until recently was threatening to grow stale.

He said thousands of people would march through the streets who would otherwise have stayed in their houses.

The gravest concern of all is that Saleh's sudden reappearance will draw Yemen's powerful tribal leaders into the ongoing fighting.

When Saleh was airlifted to Saudi Arabia for treatment after his mosque was bombed in June, Sadeq Al-Ahmar, the grizzly-bearded sheikh at the head of Yemen's most influential tribe, the Hashed, swore "by God" that he would never let Saleh rule again.

The last time hostilities between the Saleh and Ahmar families turned violent, in May, a week's worth of mortar battles erupted, flattening an entire neighborhood in the capital's east and killing hundreds on either side.

There are already reports that clashes have broken out in and around the neighbourhood where Sadeq Al-Ahmr lives, in addition there are thousands of Ahmar's rebel tribesmen and renegade troops loyal to defected general Ali Mohsin roaming the capital.

What we may witness today is a battle for the capital.

A number of Western diplomats in Sana'a have told me they had "no clue" that Saleh was going to come back today.

Even members of the Saleh's ruling party were kept in the dark suggesting it may have been a spontaneous move by the leader.

Rumours are circulating that Saleh will appear this afternoon at a massive pro-government rally near his palace in the city's West.

But most of the attention will be on the north of the capital where hundreds of thousands are expected to gather for Friday prayers and a mass march to denounce his return.

9.56am: Opposition activists in Bahrain are calling people to take part in protests today and tomorrow timed to coincide with by-elections for 18 of the 40 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The February 14 Coalition, an opposition group, has urged people to march on Martyr's Square, the site formerly known as Pearl Roundabout and the scene of March's bloody crackdown.

The Economist warns today that "another violent confrontation is quite likely."

 

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