Injured Saleh leaves Yemen, sparks celebrations

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh
SANAA: Protesters danced, sang and slaughtered cows in the central square of Yemen’s capital on Sunday to celebrate the departure of the country’s authoritarian leader for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after he was wounded in a rocket attack on his compound.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was taken to a military hospital in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, underwent successful surgery on his chest to remove jagged pieces of wood that splintered from a mosque pulpit when his compound was hit by rockets on Friday, said medical officials and a Yemeni diplomat. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to release the information.

Vice president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was acting as temporary head of state, said the deputy information minister, Abdu al-Janadi. The minister said the president would return to assume his duties after his treatment.
“Saleh will come back. Saleh is in good health, and he may give up the authority one day but it has to be in a constitutional way,” al-Janadi said. “Calm has returned. Coups have failed. … We are not in Libya, and Saleh is not calling for civil war.”

But in the streets of the capital, joyful crowds were celebrating what they hoped would be his permanent exit after nearly 33 years in power.

Saleh’s absence raised the specter of an even more violent power struggle between the armed tribesmen who have turned against him and loyalist military forces. Street battles between the sides have already pushed the more than three-month political crisis to the brink of civil war over this deeply impoverished and unstable corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

But for one day at least, the capital was celebrating. Protesters thronged Sanaa’s Change Square, the epicenter of the nationwide protest movement calling for Saleh to step down immediately. Some uniformed soldiers joined those dancing and singing patriotic songs and were hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd. Many in the jubilant crowd waved Yemeni flags, joyfully whistling and flashing the “V” for victory signs. ap

Flight to S Arabia part of exit plan?

DUBAI: Every minute Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh spends away from his country is one step closer to the end of his three-decade rule.

Wounded in a rocket attack on his palace in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Friday, Saleh is in Saudi Arabia seeking medical treatment.

Amid conflicting reports, several things remained unclear: the degree of Saleh’s injuries, whether he left behind any sons or nephews to try and keep a grip on power, and whether he would return at all.

“All we know is we are at a very, very dangerous moment,” said Sanaa-based political analyst Ali Seif Hassan. There are two scenarios to consider, he said. One is that Saleh, 69, left a vacuum that his relatives will rush to fill, leading to clashes against Saleh’s tribal foes and civil war. Two, that Saudi Arabia may have brokered a face-saving agreement that allows Saleh to leave the country and transfer power.

Much depends on how Saudi Arabia positions itself in the coming hours and days. It is Yemen’s biggest financial donor, bankrolling Saleh’s government, supplying the military and supporting hospitals.

If Saleh stays, he would become the second Arab leader to find refuge in Saudi Arabia after Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to the kingdom on Jan 14 after protests forced him out. He would also be third to fall in the “Arab Spring” that has also seen the downfall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Saudi political analyst Khalid al-Dakhil said Saleh would not have travelled to Saudi Arabia unless he had intended to seek an exit. “The speaker of parliament, PM and president are here so effectively the government is here,” Dakhil said. “This is going to facilitate the arrangement for Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.”

The rocket attack on Saleh two days ago was marked by its precision, skill and inside knowledge. Saleh and the others were in a mosque inside his palace and only a betrayal by an insider could have pinpointed his location, Stratfor analysts said. In other words, it was an assassination attempt. Saleh, speaking only via audio after the attack, blamed it on an “outlaw gang” but it most likely a coup attempt, although no one has stepped
forward to claim responsibility.

“This was not the job of tribesmen, but of military men, supported by members of the regime thought to be close to Saleh,” Stratfor said.

“For that reason, Stratfor suspects that Saleh’s most formidable opponent within the military, Maj Gen Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who has been conspicuously quiet over the past few days and who commands a great deal of respect among Yemen’s old guard, was involved in the apparent coup plot.” In another sign that Saleh may be preparing to exit, he also took 35 relatives with him to Saudi Arabia.

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