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Tue 9 Aug 2011 08:40 PM

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US urges Yemeni president not to return home

Message conveyed to Ali Abdullah Saleh as he emerges from Saudi hospital following treatment

US urges Yemeni president not to return home
Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. (AFP/Getty Images)

The United States has urged Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh not to return home from Saudi Arabia, where he has been recovering from injuries suffered in an assassination attempt during a popular uprising, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.

They said that message was conveyed directly to Saleh, who emerged on Sunday from the Riyadh hospital where he had been receiving treatment since a bomb attack in his palace on June 3 left him with severe burns and other wounds. The sources did not indicate whether Saleh accepted that request.

The latest development in the wrangle over Saleh's fate came as he renewed a vow to return as soon as his health permits to Yemen, where six months of protests demanding his ouster have seen the impoverished state slide toward the brink of civil war.

Yemen's state news agency said on Tuesday Saleh's doctors would determine the length of that recovery.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks from al Qaeda's Yemen-based branch and wary of chaos that could embolden the group, have tried to ease Saleh from office with a plan brokered by Yemen's richer Gulf neighbours.

Saleh agreed to the deal but backed out of signing at the last minute on three separate occasions, the last of which kindled weeks of fighting between his forces and fighters from the al Hashed tribal grouping, which supports calls for an end to his 33 years of autocratic rule.

On Tuesday, the US ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, urged Saleh to allow the power transfer that deal envisioned.

"We believe...dealing with the political, economic and security problems in Yemen cannot happen without a transfer of power in the country, and the arrival of new leadership in the country," he told the US Arabic-language broadcaster Radio Sawa.

His remarks echoed those of US State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Monday. When queried about reports that Washington had asked Saleh not to return, Toner urged an immediate transfer of power to his deputy, the acting head of state.

"We've also said that this is something that cannot wait until a decision is made regarding President Saleh's future, that we've got an acting president, and ... they need to move towards this transition immediately."

The transition plan, brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, has been moribund since Saleh last avoided signing it in May, triggering fighting between his forces and those of the al Ahmar family, a leading part of the Hashed group.

A further centre of power is represented by General Ali Mohsen, a top general who turned on Saleh and sided with the protesters, against whom forces loyal to Saleh turned their weapons as calls for his removal intensified.

Relative calm has mostly held in the capital since Saleh's departure, even as longstanding conflicts in Yemen's south have reignited, including a fight with Islamists that has led to a mass exodus of the population of one southern province.

The collection of leftist, Islamist, socialist and other political parties which inked the deal that Saleh rejected have been shunned by the street protesters, whose leaders disdain them as long-time collaborators of Saleh and Saudi Arabia.

That contest, said analyst Ali Seif Hassan, is deadlocked between forces commanded by Saleh's son and nephews, those of tribal chief Sadeq al-Ahmar, and Mohsen.

It may only be resolved by a far more complicated bargain that changes the balance on the ground, he said.

"The only way he will agree not to return is if Ali Mohsen also consents to leave. They were in power together, committed crimes together, and his (Saleh's) group will not consent to Mohsen remaining while the president accepts being gone."

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