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US Officials Mull Visit from Yemen's Saleh

As violence continues to rock Yemen, US officials are mulling whether the outgoing president can come to the US for medical treatment.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 12/27/2011, 3:14 AM

The Obama administration is considering whether outgoing Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh will be allowed to travel to the United States for medical treatment.

A senior administration official confirmed Saleh's office requested he be allowed to receive specialized treatment for injuries sustained in a June assassination attempt.

It was the first time the White House commented on Saleh's claim he would depart Yemen for the US.

Saleh insisted on Saturday he was going to help calm tensions in his country - not for medical treatment - as had previously been reported.

The official, who requested anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly, did not say when the Obama administration would decide on Saleh's request – but added Saleh would leave Yemen soon and spend time in another country.

Last month, Saleh agreed to a US and Saudi-backed deal to hand power over to his vice-president and commit to stepping down completely in exchange for immunity. Under the agreement Saleh remains Yemen's "honorary president" until February, but weilds no power.

Saleh's comments on Saturday came immediately after a bloody confrontation between tens of thousands of protesters and units from Yemen's republican guard commanded by his son, Ahmed.

Republican Guard units opened fire on the protesters who were converging on the capital of Sanaa demanding Saleh's prosecution for the deaths of hundreds of opposition protesters since popular protests against his regime began in February.

At least 9 were killed and 90 were wounded during the clashes - which only ended when international mediators pressed Ahmed to order his troops to stand down.

Previous calls for the troops to stand down by acting President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi – Saleh's former vice president who now heads an interim national unity government – had gone unheeded.

The traditionally weak central government of impoverished Yemen has long struggled to unite the nation's disparate and often contentious regional, tribal and religious groups.

It presently faces a tribal revolution in the north and a strong Al Qaeda insurgency in the south - which US officials fear could destabilize the new regime.

While US officials insist Saleh would only be allowed into the United Sates for medical treatment many observers suggest he may ultimately be offered asylum.