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Yemen's Saleh US Bound

Obama administration officials have decided Yemen's outgoing president will be allowed into the US "for medical treatment only."
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 12/28/2011, 12:15 AM

A senior Obama administration official told reporters outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will be allowed to travel to the United States for medical treatment, CNN reports.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged a debate within the administration was taking place.

Officials do not want to appear as providing safe haven to a dictator responsible for a violent crackdown on an uprising that killed many protesters, the source said.

However, Washington wants Saleh out of Yemen as quickly as possible in order to ease tensions and pave the way toward elections next year.

Saleh was wounded in a June assassination attack at his presidential palace and spent several months being treated in Saudi Arabia before returning to Yemen.

He subsequently agreed to a Gulf Cooperation Council brokered transfer of power agreement ending his 33-year rule in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Under the agreement Saleh remains Yemen's "Honorary President" until February while his vice president Abu Rabo Mansour Hadi would form a coalition government and rule the country until elections could be held.

Hadi's government is divided equally between opposition figures and veteran members of Saleh's government.

On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said U.S. officials were considering Saleh's request to come to America "for the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment."

Administration officials had signaled, however, Saleh would have to "spend some time" in another country before coming to the US.

The US announcement came on the heels of a bloody showdown between Yemeni republican guard forces and tens of thousands of protesters demanding Saleh's prosecution irrespective of the transfer of power agreement.

The forces, commanded by Saleh's son, Ahmed, opened fire on the protesters killing at least 9 and wounding at least 90.

The fighting continued for several hours – despite orders from Hadi for the troops to stand down – and only ended when international mediators intervened.

While unpopular with many Yemenis, Saleh has been a key ally of the United States in its war on terrorism, particularly against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemen's new coalition government finds itself with a ruined economy, a strong terror insurgency in the south, and a secessionist tribal insurgency in the north.

Saleh's departure is broadly seen in Washington as essential to pulling Yemen back from the brink of collapse.