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Sun 29 Jan 2012 08:30 AM

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Yemen’s Saleh in US for medical aid as end of reign nears

President said to seek treatment for burns, wounds after assassination attempt in June

Yemen’s Saleh in US for medical aid as end of reign nears
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled Yemen for more than three decades

Barely clinging to power, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah
Saleh arrived in the United States on Saturday, apparently to treat burns and
other wounds suffered in an assassination attempt in June.

US and Yemeni officials confirmed his arrival for a private,
short-term medical visit
but withheld details. An aide said he was headed to
New York but his whereabouts could not be confirmed.

Saleh, who has ruled the impoverished Arabian Peninsula
country for more than three decades, travelled to the United States after
spending a week in Oman under a plan for him to step down to end a year of
protests
against his rule.

Under a power transfer plan drawn up by Gulf Arab countries,
Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is presiding over a national unity
government with presidential elections set for Feb 21.

US officials first revealed in December Saleh wanted into
the country for medical treatment for lingering injuries suffered on June 3,
when a bomb blast ripped through a mosque within the presidential palace.

Saleh escaped with his life but suffered burns over much of
his body. He went to Saudi Arabia for treatment after the attack and returned
to Yemen in September.

Saleh, however, has publicly denied he needed medical
attention, saying in December he planned to return to Yemen after a few days in
America to help prepare for elections.

The attempt on Saleh's life came after he tried to duck the
power-transfer accord, leading to street battles that devastated parts of the
Yemeni capital.

Hundreds of people were killed during months of protests
seeking Saleh's ouster, part of the Arab Spring that toppled leaders in
Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattled other countries such as Syria.

Gulf Arab and Western allies fear turmoil in Yemen has given
al Qaeda militants room to further entrench themselves in remote areas outside
central government control.

Saleh has transferred some powers to his deputy and enjoys
immunity from prosecution under the deal meant to end increasing instability in
Yemen.

The deal established a transitional government that will
include the opposition and envisions restructuring Yemen's armed forces, which
has Saleh's relatives in powerful posts.

The United States endorsed the plan to coax Saleh out of
office by granting him immunity from prosecution over the deaths of protesters,
and Washington has defended its decision to issue him a visa, despite criticism
it would be seen as sheltering him.