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Yemeni president arrives in US for medical treatment

The embattled president of Yemen arrived in the United States on Saturday for medical treatment, Yemen's foreign press office said.
Ali Abdullah Saleh
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, seen here in a Dec. 24 photo, is seeking medical treatment in the U.S.Mohammed Hamoud / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The embattled president of Yemen arrived in the United States on Saturday for medical treatment, Yemen's foreign press office said.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh arrived at an unspecified location in the U.S., after a journey that took him from Oman through London.

His staff has said he is in the United States to be treated for injuries suffered during an assassination attempt in June.

Saleh's travel plans in the United States have not been disclosed for security reasons.

After months of unrest, Saleh agreed in November to relinquish power.

The U.S. and its allies have pressured Saleh to leave Yemen permanently, but it is unclear how long he will remain in the U.S.

In a speech before he left for Oman, he promised to return home before Feb. 21 presidential elections.

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

Saleh was traveling on a chartered Emirates plane with a private doctor, translator, eight armed guards and several family members, an official in the Yemeni president's office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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

But opponents say 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 the country's most elite and powerful military units. As a result, the past two months have seen persistent violence, power struggles and delays in reforms.

Saleh agreed to step down in return for a sweeping immunity from prosecution on any crimes committed during his rule, a measure that has angered many in Yemen who want him tried for the deaths of protesters in his crackdown on the uprising against him. Protests have continued demanding his prosecution and the removal of his relatives and allies from authority.

Even since the protests against his rule began a year ago, Saleh has proved a master in eluding pressure to keep his grip, though over the months his options steadily closed around him. He slipped out of signing the accord for the power handover three times over the months before finally agreeing to it.

He was badly burned in a June explosion in his compound in Sanaa. He received medical treatment in neighboring Saudi Arabia for three months. American officials had hoped he would remain there, but the Yemeni leader returned home and violence worsened anew.

His maneuvering and the turmoil on the ground left the United States struggling to find a stable transition in the country to ensure a continued fight against al-Qaida militants based in the country, who make up the most active branch of the terror network in the world. Saleh was a close ally of Washington in the fight, taking millions in counterterrorism aid.

During the past year of turmoil, al-Qaida-linked militants outright took control of several cities and towns in the south, including Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.

On Friday, government forces battled with the militants near the town of Jaar, which they also control. At least five people were killed in the fighting, Yemeni security officials said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.