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Friday, June 17, 2011

Will Saleh return home to Yemen from Saudi Arabia? No, says a Saudi source

Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, being treated for shrapnel wounds in Riyadh, will not return home, a top Saudi official said on Friday, contrary to Sanaa’s claims that he will return soon.

A Yemeni official promptly denied the claim, as hundreds of thousands of anti-Saleh demonstrators pressed for an interim ruling council that would replace the veteran leader and make sure he does not return to power.

“The Yemeni president will not return to Yemen,” the Saudi official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
“It has not been decided where he will stay,” the official added, apparently suggesting that Mr. Saleh might eventually leave Saudi Arabia for another country.

The official did not specify whether the decision not to return home was taken by President Saleh himself.

Yemen’s deputy information minister Abdo Al Janadi dismissed the claim.

“President Saleh will return in the coming few days,” he told AFP.

The veteran leader was flown to Riyadh on June 4 on board a Saudi medical aircraft, a day after he was wounded in a bomb explosion at a mosque inside his Sana’a presidential compound.

He has not been seen in public since the attack.

Reports on the condition of the 69-year-old president’s health have been sketchy, but Bahrain’s King Hamad was reported to have called him on Thursday, two days after Saudi King Abdullah had a phone conversation with him.

In Saleh’s absence, his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has been coming under intensive local and international pressure to heed the demands of protesters to set up an interim ruling council, which would prevent Mr. Saleh returning to power.

But Hadi’s grip on the reins of power is strongly questioned as relatives of Mr. Saleh continue to run main security systems, mainly his son Ahmed, who leads the elite Republican Guard.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hadi met representatives of youth protests which have raged since late January demanding the ouster of President Saleh. They pressed him to give a clear stance on their demands, and gave him two weeks to respond.

The meeting followed talks between Mr. Hadi and the parliamentary opposition in which they agreed on calming the situation as a first step towards reviving the political process.

Washington on Thursday welcomed Mr. Hadi’s talks with opponents of President Saleh, who was a key US-ally in the war on Al Qaeda.

“We have been encouraged that Vice President Hadi has started some outreach to the opposition and started some dialogue,” said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“Because, as you know, we believe that there is no time to lose in moving on to the democratic future that Yemen deserves,” she added.

Protesters had on Monday given Mr. Hadi 24 hours to declare his position on their call for him to join the proposed council which they said would lead the country for a maximum of nine months.

The activists said the council would “appoint a nationalist and compatible figure to form a government of technocrats.”

They also called for the dissolution of parliament and Yemen’s consultative council, for the formation of a committee to draw up a new constitution, and for dates to hold a referendum on the constitution and for elections.

Anti-Saleh demonstrators raged across Yemen, a country of 24 million people, urging the forming of the interim council, while a call for Mr. Saleh loyalists was poorly attended.

“Oh King Abdullah, keep Ali Abdullah (Saleh),” they chanted at University Square, now dubbed Change Square, host to nearly five months of protests.

Demonstrations were also staged in Taez, Yemen’s second-largest city, Aden, Ebb, Hudayda, Mukalla and other cities, witnesses said.

In Taez, protesters held Friday prayers and a following demonstration at Freedom Square for the first time since the place was stormed by security forces on May 29 in an attack that the UN said left more than 50 dead.

Mr. Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, has steadfastly refused to endorse a Gulf states proposal for him to transfer power to his deputy and resign in return for parliamentary immunity against prosecution.

His presidential term is due to end in 2013.

(Mustapha Ajbaili, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English

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