Saleh headed to Saudi Arabia; Yemen VP now acting president

Saleh's exit is seen as possible first step in transfer of leadership; President is seeking foreign medical care following attack on his compound; Saudi Arabia also claims to have brokered truce.

By REUTERS
June 4, 2011 21:10
3 minute read.
Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

 
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RIYADH- Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia on Saturday for treatment for wounds he suffered a day earlier in an attack on the presidential palace, a Saudi government source said. After his exit, it was announced that Yemeni Vice President Abid Rabou Mansour Hadi is now acting president.

"Saleh is expected to come to Saudi Arabia tonight for treatment for neck and chest wounds," the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

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Global powers have been pressing Saleh to sign a Gulf-brokered deal to end his nearly 33-year rule over one of the Arab world's poorest states.

Seven other people were killed in the attack that wounded Saleh, who is facing mounting pressure to step down.

Leaving Yemen at a time of such instability, even for medical care, could make it hard for Saleh to retain power and be seen as the first step in a transfer of leadership.

Also on Saturday, a Saudi source told Reuters Saudi Arabia has brokered a fresh truce between a powerful Yemini tribal federation and forces loyal to Saleh.

The two sides agreed to a truce a week ago brokered by the Saudis but it only held for about a day as they began fresh street battles in Sanaa that killed scores this week.

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Gulf and global powers, including Saudi Arabia, have been pushing Saleh to sign a deal to step down. Leaving the country, even for medical treatment, could be seen as the first step in a transfer of leadership.

There are growing worries that Yemen, already on the brink of financial ruin and home at al-Qaida militants, would become a failed state that poses a threat to the world's largest oil exporting region and to global security.

Residents in Sanaa faced new fears after fighting between a powerful tribal federation and Saleh's forces spread to new parts of the divided city on Friday, prompting a fresh exodus of war-weary civilians.

"Saleh is still in Sanaa," a Yemeni official told Reuters.

"He had suffered minor wounds to his head and I believe his face."

Nearly 200 people have been killed in the past two weeks in urban battles with machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades that caused Sanaa's airport to briefly ground flights twice and shuttered shops.

Intermittent blasts and sporadic fire fights punctuated the predawn hours in Sanaa. Roads were clogged when the sun rose by civilians fleeing violence that has engulfed more of the city.

"Bullets are everywhere, explosions terrified us. There's no chance to stay anymore," said Sanaa resident Ali Ahmed.

Spain said it is evacuating its citizens and diplomats in Yemen and Germany ordered the temporary closure of its embassy, adding to the number of countries shutting the doors on their diplomatic missions in Sanaa due to the fighting.

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On Friday, several Yemeni officials were injured and seven killed when shells hit a mosque in the presidential palace, state media said. Saleh's forces retaliated by shelling the homes of the leaders of a the Hashed tribal federation fighting an urban battle to oust Saleh.

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