The Mercury

End of road for Yemeni president?

- Sana’a

YEMENI President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounded in an attack on his palace, has flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, potentiall­y offering a face-saving end to his three-decade rule.

Yemeni ruling party official Tareq al-Shami said Saleh would return within days, but uncertaint­y about whether he would be able to maintain his grip after months of protests meant the risk of further turmoil remained high.

Some Yemenis celebrated what they hoped would be Saleh’s permanent departure, but the jubilation was mixed with firefights and explosions in Sana’a, and gunbattles broke out in the city of Taiz, about 200km south.

“People are worried about what will happen after Saleh’s departure. They’re most worried about a military coup or struggles for power within the army,” said Farouq Abdel Salam, a resident in Aden.

Acting President AbdRabbu Mansour Hadi met military commanders, including Saleh’s powerful sons and nephews, who remain in Yemen. Hadi also met the US ambassador.

Worries are mounting that Yemen, already on the brink of financial ruin and home to alQaeda militants, could become a failed state that poses a threat to the world’s top oil exporting region and to global security.

Saleh has exasperate­d his former US and Saudi allies, who once saw him as a key partner in efforts to combat Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, by repeatedly reneging on a Gulf-brokered deal for him to quit in return for immunity.

Washington has called on Saleh to quit.

“I think this is just about the end of his match,” Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst, said. “The Saudis are not going to bargain with him.”

Saudi Arabia has led efforts to negotiate a peaceful handover.

But a Saudi-brokered ceasefire between rival clans and political elites appeared to break down yesterday as heavy gunfire and explosions rang out in the capital Sana’a.

In Taiz, thousands of people celebrated Saleh’s trip to Saudi Arabia with a fireworks display, but several were wounded in heavy gunfire.

Leaving Yemen at a time of such instabilit­y, even for medical care, could make it hard for Saleh to retain power.

The true seat of power, following Saleh’s departure, has yet to be decided. But Saleh’s eldest son, Ahmed, commands the elite Republican Guard and three of his nephews control the security and intelligen­ce units.

“These are the most difficult days and we’re worried the coming days will be even more difficult,” Sanaa resident Ali al Mujahid, 42, said.

Saleh, whose Saudi medical evacuation plane was met by a senior Saudi official, walked off the aircraft but had visible injuries on his neck, head and face, a source said.

The latest violence was the bloodiest since pro-democracy unrest erupted in January and was sparked by Saleh’s refusal to sign a power transfer deal.

Abdulla Ali al-Radhi, Yemen’s ambassador to Britain, said of Friday’s attack on the palace: “The rocket was devastatin­g. It was a clear assassinat­ion attempt against the president.” – Reuters

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