Saleh flies to US for medical treatment

YEMENI president Ali Abdullah Saleh headed to the United States yesterday – via the UK – for medical treatment, the latest stage in an effort to distance him from his country’s political affairs to help ease a transition from his rule.

Ahmed al-Soufi, the press officer for the presidency, said Saleh, 69, had arrived in London and would then fly on to New York for medical treatment for wounds suffered in a June assassination attempt in the Yemeni capital.

Saleh left Yemen for neighbouring Oman a week ago, planning to head to the US, after weeks of talks with US representatives over where he might settle.

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Washington has been trying to get Saleh to leave his homeland, but it does not want him to remain permanently in America, fearing it would be seen as harbouring a leader considered by his people to have blood on his hands.

In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed that Saleh’s plane was scheduled to land at a British commercial airport “to refuel en route to the United States”.

She said Saleh and those accompanying him were not going to enter the UK.

Saleh travelled on a chartered Emirates plane with a private doctor, translator, eight armed guards and several family members.

In November, Saleh handed over his powers to his vice-president and promised to step down completely after months of protests by millions across Yemen demanding an end to his nearly 33-year rule. A national unity government was formed between his ruling party and the opposition.

But opponents claim he has continued to interfere in the work of a unity government through his allies and relatives in key posts – particularly his son and nephew, who command Yemen’s most elite and powerful military units. As a result, the past two months have seen persistent violence, power struggles and delays in democratic reforms.