Factbox: Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh

Fri Jun 3, 2011 3:12pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was slightly wounded in an attack on his palace in the capital Sanaa, on Friday, a Yemen-based Western diplomat told Reuters.

Here are some facts about Yemen's long-serving leader:

* SALEH AS PRESIDENT:

-- Saleh, in power for more than three decades, has used internal conflicts with Houthi Shi'ite rebels in the north, Marxist rebels in the south and al-Qaeda operatives to the east to draw in foreign aid and military support and solidify his power base. Al Qaeda has already used Yemen to attempt attacks in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the past two years.

-- Saleh presided over the unification of North Yemen and South Yemen in 1990 and has fended off rebels and separatists to prevent Yemen sliding into becoming a failed state.

-- He was elected president by parliament in October 1994, and first directly elected president in September 1999, winning 96.3 percent of the vote. Most recently, he was re-elected in September 2006 to a seven-year term.

-- A string of Saleh's allies has defected to protesters, who are frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment. Some 40 percent of the population live on $2 a day or less, and one third face chronic hunger.

-- Saleh has made many verbal concessions during the protests, recently promising to step down in weeks in return for immunity from prosecution. The opposition agreed to the peace plan, which was negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

-- However, Saleh has yet to sign any plan and the latest refusal, on May 22, has sparked more street battles in Sanaa this time between his security forces and a powerful tribal group, the Hashed tribal alliance, led by Sadeq al-Ahmar whose family has backed protesters demanding Saleh's overthrow.

-- The fighting forced thousands of residents to flee Sanaa and raised the prospect of chaos that could benefit the Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda and threaten neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter. More than 370 people have been killed around Yemen since January when the protest movement began.

-- Saleh was slightly wounded when shells struck his palace on Friday, a Yemen-based Western diplomat said. The government blamed the tribesmen but Sadeq al-Ahmar blamed the government to help justify its escalation of street fighting in the capital.

* LIFE DETAILS:

-- Born in March 1942 into a tribe living near Sanaa, he received only limited education before taking up a military career, beginning in 1958 as a non-commissioned officer.

-- His first break came when North Yemen President Ahmed al-Ghashmi, who came from the same Hashed tribe as Saleh, appointed him military governor of Taiz, North Yemen's second city. When Ghashmi was killed by a bomb in 1978, Saleh replaced him as leader of the North.

-- However, the severity of his rule aggravated tension with the South, and sporadic clashes escalated into open conflict between the two states in 1979. The brief war went badly for Saleh.

-- However, Saleh was seen as a survivor. He crushed an attempt to overthrow him only months after he took power in North Yemen, and swept to victory when southerners tried to secede from united Yemen in 1994.

Sources: Reuters/Globalsecurity.com

(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

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