February 2, 2011 / 1:14 PM / 9 years ago

Factbox: Key facts about Yemen's veteran leader

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a tough survivor who has been in power for more than three decades, said on Wednesday that he would not extend his rule when his current term ends in 2013.

With anti-government turmoil sweeping the Arab world, Saleh — a key U.S. ally against al Qaeda — made his remarks on the eve of a planned opposition rally dubbed a “Day of Rage.”

Following are some key facts about the president:

* Saleh, 68, is a former army officer who took power in former North Yemen in 1978 after ex-President Ahmed al-Ghashmi was killed by a bomb. Saleh presided over the merger in 1990 of north and south Yemen into a single country.

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

* His first break came when Ghashmi appointed him military governor of Taiz, North Yemen’s second city.

* Saleh, from the Zaidi sect of Islam, crushed an attempt to overthrow him only months after he took power in North Yemen, and then defeated a brief war over secession in 1994.

* Although the south has always seen simmering discontent, violence has been growing in recent months, from separatist ambushes to clashes with security forces. Saleh is also trying to cement a shaky truce struck with northern Shi’ite rebels.

* Saleh is seen as a key U.S. ally in fighting al Qaeda. WikiLeaks cables showed in December Saleh had secretly offered U.S. forces an open door to launch attacks against al Qaeda targets in his country.

* Seen as a hard-headed pragmatist, he has tried to attract foreign investors to the small oil-producing nation while battling bids by fundamentalists to turn the country into an Islamic state and confronting frequent kidnappings of foreigners by disgruntled tribesmen.

* In a pledge to reform the economy, Saleh promised to increase salaries for civil servants and military personnel by around $47 a month in a country where nearly half the population lives on $2 a day or less.

Reporting by Catherine Ngai; Editing by Maria Golovnina

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