Saleh's medical visit a respite for Yemen but problematic to US

Opposition leaders and activists believe outgoing president's trip to New York will help the political transition and diffuse tensions, but he will remain a target by protesters wanting him brought to justice.

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SANAA // Yemeni opposition leaders and protest activists think the departure of the outgoing president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to the United States for medical treatment would help the political transition and diffuse tension.

"His absence will boost the power and influence of the interim leader Abdurabu Mansur Hadi and will loosen tension by reducing the zeal of his supporters," said Majed Al Madhaji, a protest activist.

Mohammed Al Sabri, a leader in the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), said by staying in the country Mr Saleh is playing a "spoiling role". Mr Al Sabri added that Mr Saleh has no part in the country's future.

The New York Times, citing two Obama administration officials, reported on Monday that Mr Saleh would receive medical treatment in New York for serious injuries he sustained last June during an assassination attempt in Sanaa.

However US officials said late on Monday that they were still considering Mr Saleh's request to get treatment in the US. "The initial reports that permission has already been granted are not true," Josh Ernest, a deputy White House press secretary, said.

The decision to allow Mr Saleh into the US could prove problematic for the White House because he remains the target of pro-democracy protesters who have accused him of ordering hundreds of deaths of protesters since a government crackdown this years.

Tens of thousands protest almost daily, demanding the prosecution of Mr Saleh and his relatives for the deaths of more than 1,140 people since the uprising began in January. They reject immunity to prosecution granted to him by the Gulf-brokered and West-backed power transition plan that Mr Saleh signed last month, delegating some of his powers to his deputy Mr Hadi.

"The departure of Saleh to the US will not mean an escape from justice if there is any legal pursuit to bring him to court. I do not think the US would like to put itself in confrontation with the Yemeni public," said Mr Al Madhaji.

Mr Al Sabri said the JMP was committed to the Gulf agreement, which states that where should not be any "political vendettas or revenge".

"But, we support the public demand in achieving a transitional justice which is also stated in the implementing mechanism of the Gulf agreement as well as the UN Security Council resolution, and therefore, it will be an unprecedented step if the US decides to give him a shelter to escape justice."