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Confusion reigns as Yemen's president Saleh arrives in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment

Questions are now being asked as to whether Saleh will return to Yemen as anti-government protesters celebrated his departure on the streets of Sanaa.

Ali Abdullah Saleh (File photo)
Ali Abdullah Saleh (File photo)
Image: AP Photo

CONFUSION HAS ENGULFED Yemen after president Ali Abdullah Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment for injuries thought to be a lot worse than originally reported after his palace was shelled on Friday.

BBC News is reporting that questions are now being asked as to whether Saleh will return to the country that has descended into chaos in recent weeks as protesters demand the president step down.

Saleh has refused to step down after nearly 33 years in power despite four months of angry and violent protesters against his rule.

His departure is thought to leave him in a much more weakened position with his vice president Abdel-Rabbu Mansour Hadi taking over command of the country, the armed forces and the security services.

A Saudi official has told Al Arabiya that whilst Saleh has arrived Riyadh for medical treatment he has not stood down and “will return to Yemen”.

The official  said that Saleh, 69, arrived aboard a Saudi medical aircraft while a second plane carried members of his family to the capital.

He was injured in an attack on his presidential compound on Friday in which a number of top government officials were wounded. The earliest reports claimed Saleh had been killed but these proved to be wide of the mark.

However, efforts by officials in his government to play down the extent of his injuries appear to have failed.

It is understood Saleh was hit by shrapnel three inches below his heart and will undergo an operation.

AP reports that protesters danced, sang and slaughtered cows in the central square of Yemen’s capital on Sunday to celebrate the departure of the country’s authoritarian leader.

The protesters celebrated at Sanaa’s Change square, the epicentre of a nationwide protest movement since mid-February calling for the presideent to step down immediately after nearly 33 years.

However significantly it reports that military officials said vice president Hadi met late Saturday night in Sanaa with several members of Saleh’s family, including his son and one-time heir apparent Ahmed, who commands the powerful presidential guard.

Others who attended the meeting included two of the president’s nephews and two half brothers. All four head well-equipped and highly trained units that constitute the president’s main power base in the military.

That such powerful members of Saleh’s family have been left behind in Sanaa suggests that the president’s departure will not necessarily end the crisis in Yemen.

For one thing, fighting could continue between the tribal forces and pro-regime units led by loyal members of Saleh’s inner circle.

- additional reporting from AP

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Hugh O'Connell

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