Confrontations continue in Yemen as VP meets with opposition over appeasement

80 Yemeni army soldiers killed in battles with al-Qaeda in Zinjibar

Germany recognizes Libya’s transitional council, opposition leader visits Jordan, Gulf states

Gaddafi says ready to accept African plan to stop raging fighting in Libya

Clinton urges African countries to drop Gaddafi

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh expressed thanks to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, and Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for the care and attention enjoyed by the president and the senior leaders of the state present in the kingdom's hospitals.

This was stated by Dr. Mohammad Alsyani, chief physician accompanying the Yemeni president in a statement carried by the Yemeni News Agency.

Dr. Mohammad Alsyani said, 'The Yemeni president considered the care and attention enjoyed by him and those accompanying him as not unusual by the brethren in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who always stand by the Yemeni people and as underlining the strength of the brotherly, solid and historic relations binding the two brotherly countries and peoples.'

Dr. Alsyani said the health of the president is constantly improving.

Meanwhile, Yemen's political opposition held talks with the country's acting leader on Monday in a bid to defuse months of violent political deadlock over the future of veteran leader President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh, forced to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for wounds suffered in an attack on his palace earlier this month, has refused to leave office despite nearly six months of street protests and many diplomatic attempts to remove him.

The ensuing political paralysis and long-standing conflicts with Islamist insurgents, separatists and rebel tribesmen have fanned Western and regional fears of Yemen collapsing into chaos and giving al-Qaeda a stronghold alongside oil shipping routes.

A member of a group of opposition parties calling on Saleh to formally step down, who declined to be identified, said the meeting aimed to resurrect a plan by Yemen's oil-rich Gulf neighbors to ease the president out.

"It's to discuss a means to carry out the Gulf initiative and transfer power to the vice president," he said before talks began. A member of that coalition on Sunday said vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was refusing to meet with them.

Saleh on three previous occasions backed out of that plan at the last minute. It envisioned him leaving office inside a month, with a guarantee of immunity from prosecution.

Fierce street battles between Saleh's security forces and those of General Ali al-Mohsen al-Ahmar, who abandoned the president in March, engulfed the capital when the most recent bid for an agreed political transition collapsed last month.

A ceasefire has held in Sanaa since Saleh left following the June 3 attack on his palace.

Over 200 people were killed and thousands fled during two weeks of clashes between his loyalists and the forces of tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, who also backs the protesters.

Sanaa is now dangerously short of fuel, electricity and water, and violence in a southern province -- whose capital Islamist gunmen seized last month -- has worsened.

Yemen's army killed 21 al-Qaeda members in the southern province of Abyan on Saturday, 18 of them in Zinjibar, the provincial capital that fell. Ten soldiers were killed in fighting there and another city, Lawdar, state media said.

At least four soldiers and several gunmen were killed in running battles in Zinjibar on Sunday. An army officer was killed near the southern port city of Aden when an unidentified assailant threw a grenade at him, a security official said.

Yemen's government, itself paralyzed in the broader political standoff, is struggling to provide medicine and other essentials to people who have fled Zinjibar.

At least 10,000 have taken refuge in Aden, many of them sleeping in schools. The U.N. children's agency UNICEF warned last week that the number of displaced may hit 40,000.

Opposition parties have said they will form their own transitional assembly within a week if Saleh does not cede power. It is not clear whether those parties have any significant influence over many of the protesters.

His opponents have accused him of handing over Zinjibar to Islamists to reinforce his threat that the end of his three-decade rule, as demanded by protesters, would amount to ceding the region to al-Qaeda.

Saleh has not been seen in public since the palace attack, which left him with burns and shrapnel wounds. Yemen's ambassador in London said on Saturday that he was recovering and in stable condition.

Saudi medical sources and Yemeni officials said Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Megawar and another cabinet member injured in the palace attack had undergone further surgery and described their condition as "serious."

At least 140 people have been killed in two weeks of clashes between Yemeni security forces and suspected al-Qaeda gunmen in the southern city of Zinjibar, a military official said Monday.

"At least 80 security officials including soldiers have been killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes with al-Qaeda militants since Zinjibar fell under the network's grip" in late May, the military official said. "More than 60 al-Qaeda militants, among them local leaders, have also been killed and at least 90 others wounded."

Gunmen seized control of much of Zinjibar in late May.

Security officials say the militants are al-Qaeda fighters but the political opposition accuses President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime of inventing a jihadist threat to head off Western pressure on his 33-year rule.

Yemen is the home of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of the slain Osama bin Laden's militant network. The group is blamed for plots including trying to blow up a US-bound airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.

Meanwhile the wounded Saleh, who is recovering in a Saudi hospital from a bomb blast, will address his people "very soon," the defense ministry's website said.

Health Minister Abdul Karim Rasei, who visited Saleh in Riyadh on Saturday, said that the embattled president would "very soon speak directly through the media to the Yemeni people," the website 26sep.net reported.

The president, who was wounded June 3 in an attack on the mosque in his palace compound in Sanaa, was "improving each day and is in good health," the minister said.

Saleh, who has faced four months of protests calling for his departure, was flown to Riyadh for treatment a day after the explosion, prompting conflicting reports about his condition. A Yemeni source said Saturday that the 69-year-old leader was in poor condition and suffering breathing problems.

In Benghazi, Germany recognized Libya's rebel council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people on Monday, giving heavyweight support to leaders poised to run the country if Muammar Gaddafi falls.

The recognition, voiced by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on a visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, is significant because Berlin has been reluctant to be drawn into the conflict and opted out of NATO military action.

"We share the same goal - Libya without Gaddafi," Westerwelle told a news conference after meeting members of the National Transitional Council, seen by many as a government-in-waiting.

"The national council is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people," Westerwelle said, to applause. Countries that have recognized the rebel council include France, Italy, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged African leaders to follow suit and abandon Gaddafi.

Gaddafi has styled himself the African "king of kings" and over the years won support from many African states in exchange for financial help and generous gifts. Most countries on the continent have been lukewarm toward the rebels.

"It has become clear that we are long past the time when he (Gaddafi) can remain in power," Clinton said in a speech to the African Union at its headquarters in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

"Your words and your actions could make the difference... (in ending this situation) ...and allowing the people of Libya to get to work writing a constitution and rebuilding their country," she said.

Gaddafi's government on Monday promised to implement proposals laid out by African countries to end the stalemate as well as draft a constitution and a new media law, according to official JANA news agency.

A Reuters photographer in Misrata, the biggest rebel stronghold in western Libya, joined rebel units as they pushed their front several kilometers west to the outskirts of Zlitan, a neighboring town controlled by Gaddafi's forces.

The photographer was taken to the furthest rebel point along the main road, where rebels had shifted shipping containers and sand to block the road and provide cover for their fighters.

After taking control of a mosque in farmland beside the road, the two sides traded heavy artillery fire.

On the wall of the mosque, rebels had scrubbed out graffiti in Arabic that read "Muammar." The new positions, they said, were inside Zlitan district.

A doctor at a field hospital in Dafniyah, west of Misrata, said two rebels were killed and at least 12 wounded in rocket attacks near the mosque.

Zlitan may be the next town to rise against Gaddafi's rule, bringing the rebellion closer to Tripoli, the Libyan leader's stronghold which lies 200 km (124 miles) west of Misrata.

Rebels from Misrata say tribal sensitivities prevent them from attacking, and they are instead waiting for the people of Zlitan to rise up.

Western governments say they believe it is only a matter of time before Gaddafi's 41-year rule ends under the weight of NATO military intervention, sanctions and defections.

But Gaddafi has refused to quit, and he has proved in the past to be a wily survivor. Libyan television showed him on Sunday evening playing chess with the visiting president of the international chess federation.

His armed forces have also shown they are not about to buckle, inflicting heavy damage on the rebels on several fronts and forcing the NATO-led coalition to extend its operation until the end of September.

Britain's navy chief warned on Monday that a prolonged military campaign would be challenging for its naval resources.

"Beyond that (90 days) ... we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about what priorities they want," Admiral Mark Stanhope told reporters at a joint briefing with the head of the U.S. navy in London.

Fighting flared at the weekend in the town of Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital -- clashes the rebel leadership said were a sign that the momentum in the four-month-old conflict was shifting their way.

But on Monday, a rebel spokesman in Zawiyah who had been giving accounts of the fighting was no longer reachable by telephone. The main highway west from Tripoli, which had been closed because of the fighting, appeared to have re-opened.

A group of foreign journalists who traveled with an official escort from Tripoli to neighboring Tunisia on Monday morning passed along the main highway, instead of taking a detour near Zawiyah as happened at the weekend.

A rebel spokesman in the town of Zintan, in the rebel-held Western Mountains range southwest of Tripoli, said the settlement was subjected to its heaviest bombardment by pro-Gaddafi forces in several weeks on Sunday.

"There were nine martyrs from the bombardment. More than 40 others were wounded," the spokesman, called Abdulrahman, told Reuters by telephone from Zintan.

"The revolutionaries captured several mercenaries and Libyan army officers. Some of them were wounded and are receiving treatment," he said. "There was no bombardment today. It's quiet for the moment."

Gaddafi has said the rebels are criminals and al-Qaeda militants. He has described the NATO military intervention as an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya's oil.

Libyan state television on Monday showed pictures of what it said was Abu Bakr Jaber Younes, Gaddafi's de facto defense minister, touring the front lines in Brega, an oil town on the Mediterranean Sea that marks his eastern front line.

On Sunday, rebels said they were repulsed by Gaddafi's forces in a battle to retake Brega, despite NATO air support, and at least four were killed and 65 wounded.

"We attacked them first but they attacked us back. We tried to get to Brega but that was difficult," said Haitham Elgwei, a rebel fighter, after returning from the front.

In Amman, Jordan said it recognizes the Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Several countries, including France and Italy, have recognized the NTC. The United States, Britain and others have not done so but have established a diplomatic presence in Libya's eastern coastal city of Benghazi.

Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Tuesday that Jordan will soon name a "permanent envoy" in Benghazi, virtually establishing diplomatic ties with the rebels.

Judeh said he told the head of NTC's executive committee Mahmoud Jibril in a telephone call that Jordan considers NTC as the "legitimate representative and the credible interlocutor for the Libyan people."

Meanwhile, South African President Jacob Zuma said Gaddafi is ready for a truce to stop the fighting in his country.

Zuma, who met the Libyan leader at an undisclosed location during a visit to Libya on Monday, also listed conditions set out by the embattled leader that have scuppered previous ceasefire attempts.

He said Gaddafi was willing to accept an African Union (AU) initiative for a ceasefire that would stop all hostilities, including NATO air strikes in support of rebel forces.

But Zuma said Gaddafi insists that "all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves" to determine the country's future. The rebels, however, quickly rejected the offer.

Zuma did not say whether Gaddafi was ready to step down, a key demand of the rebels.

In April, Zuma led a delegation of the African Union to Libya with an AU proposal for a truce. Gaddafi said he would accept the truce but quickly ignored it and resumed his attacks.

In the rebels' de facto capital of Benghazi, Fathi Baja, the rebel foreign minister, rejected the African Union plan.

"We refuse completely; we don't consider it a political initiative, it is only some stuff that Gaddafi wants to announce to stay in power," he told the Associated Press.

Idris Traina, a member of the Libyan opposition based in Los Angeles, told Al Jazeera that there was nothing new in this visit.

"Initially the reports we heard were that president Zuma was there to negotiate an exit strategy for Gaddafi and his family," he said.

"Later we heard repeated talk about the truce, but the Transitional National Council and the Libyan people have rejected these [truce offers] before and are rejecting them now."

Zuma's visit to Libya came amid reports of mass defections from Gaddafi's army.

Eight senior military officers held a press conference in Italy on Monday, saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who defected from Gaddafi's side in recent days.

In a statement on the eve of Zuma's visit, his ruling African National Congress in South Africa condemned the NATO bombing of Libya.

"We also join the continent and all peace loving people of the world in condemning the continuing aerial bombardments of Libya by Western forces," it said after a two-day meeting of its executive council.

The development came as Navi Pillay, the U.N. rights chief, condemned the brutality of the Libyan government's crackdown on protesters, saying the actions were shocking in their disregard for human rights.

"The brutality and magnitude of measures taken by the governments in Libya and now Syria have been particularly shocking in their outright disregard for basic human rights," she said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged African leaders on Monday to abandon Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and embrace democratic reforms, before cutting short her Africa trip as a volcanic ash cloud closed in.

Clinton, the first U.S. secretary of state to address the 53-member African Union, said unreformed African leaders were themselves at risk from the same tide of democracy sweeping the Middle East, proclaiming "the status quo is broken and the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable."

"It is true that Gaddafi has played a major role in providing financial support for many African nations and institutions, including the AU," Clinton said in her speech at the AU's headquarters in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. "But it has become clear that we are long past the time when he can remain in power."

Clinton urged African states -- many with long-standing diplomatic and financial ties to the oil-rich Libyan leader -- to join the international coalition demanding his exit as the condition for a ceasefire.

She also urged them to close pro-Gaddafi Libyan embassies, expel his diplomats and build ties with the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council, which the United States and its European and Arab allies are promoting as a future interim government for the country.

Shortly after Clinton's AU speech, aides said her pilots had advised that an approaching ash cloud risked stranding her in the Horn of Africa if she did not depart swiftly.

Eritrea's long-dormant Dubbi volcano erupted at around midnight on Sunday after a series of earthquakes in the remote, arid region bordering Ethiopia, hurling a plume of ash 13.5 km into the sky, the France-based Volcanic Ash Advisory Center said.

U.S. officials said the ash cloud was headed toward Addis Ababa.

Clinton met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as planned but canceled a scheduled media briefing to make time for meetings with delegations from Sudan's north and south. Violence is worsening in parts of Sudan ahead of the south's formal independence on July 9. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir agreed on Sunday to pull troops out of the disputed border region of Abyei before the south secedes -- a move which could help reduce tension.

However, the two sides have yet to agree on sensitive issues such as where to draw the common border and how to share oil revenues, leaving the potential for further conflict.

Clinton, speaking before her arrival in Addis Ababa during a stop in Tanzania, said the United States supported a proposal to put Ethiopian peacekeepers in the disputed Abyei region.

"I was hoping to spend a long time talking to you but I am being chased by a volcano," Clinton told south Sudan's President Salva Kiir.

She had a separate meeting with Nafie Ali Nafie, one of Bashir's main advisers. There were no immediate details.

Clinton used her three-nation Africa tour to highlight the Obama administration's drive to increase trade ties with Africa and encourage better political and economic governance.

She praised many African countries for implementing reforms and moving away from a tradition of strongman rule. But on a continent where autocrats still rule from Equatorial Guinea to Zimbabwe, Clinton said more needed to be done.

"We know that too many people in Africa live under long-standing rulers -- men who care too much about the longevity of their reign and too little about the legacy that should be built for their country's future," she said.

U.S. officials say the African Union has played a constructive role in regional affairs like the political deadlock in Ivory Coast and mustering peacekeepers for other regional crises.

But the AU -- long the beneficiary of Gaddafi's largesse -- has declined to join calls for Gaddafi's removal, instead accusing Western nations of undermining its own efforts to find a solution to the conflict.