SANAA (Reuters) - President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemen on Friday, state television reported, after spending three months in Saudi Arabia recovering from a June assassination attempt.
Saleh's return comes amid a surge of violence in the capital Sanaa, rocked by clashes between loyalist troops and forces backing a mass protest movement calling for his overthrow.
Within minutes of the announcement, loud bursts of gunfire and explosions were heard echoing through the capital.
"Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of the Republic, returned this morning to the land of the nation safely after a trip for treatment in Riyadh that lasted more than three months," an urgent news break on Yemen Television said.
A Reuters witness said the road to Sanaa's military airport was blocked on Friday morning.
Saleh has clung to his 33-year rule despite pressure to sign a power transition deal and a bomb attack on his compound in June that left him severely wounded.
Protesters took to the streets in January, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.
The United States, Saudi Arabia and other powers fear al-Qaeda's Yemen wing could exploit the growing lawlessness in the country. Al Qaeda militants have already seized cities in a Yemeni province just east of a key oil shipping channel in recent months.
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Andrew Heavens)