Apparently the blast that injured President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen was pretty bad. The BBC reports that he has shrapnel lodged near his heart, as well as second-degree burns to his chest and face. That would explain why his statement yesterday was on audio tape and not video. In that audio address, Saleh blamed an “outlaw gang” for the attack on the Presidential palace, and vowed to not leave power until the militant threat was stopped. But today, Saleh has apparently left Yemen for treatment in Saudi Arabia.
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was wounded in a rocket attack on his compound on Friday, was expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night for medical treatment.
Reports by the BBC and al-Arabiya television that Saleh had left the Yemeni capital Sana’a for Saudi Arabia were originally denied. But an unnamed Yemeni official later said that Saleh had accepted the offer.
The speculation about Saleh’s whereabouts comes amid an escalating crisis in which nearly 200 people have been killed during two weeks of battles. Any departure by Saleh would make it extremely difficult for him to return to Yemen, where he is fighting a four-month uprising against his rule.
I’m not sure he’ll be able to come back. Remember that Saudi Arabia dominates the Guld Cooperation Council, which tried to broker the deal for Saleh to leave power, a deal which Saleh has turned down three times. As a condition for treatment, the Saudis may put pressure on Saleh to remain in exile.
Not just Saleh, but the Prime Minister and the speakers of both houses of Parliament left Sanaa for Saudi Arabia, according to Yemeni state TV. That looks like a near-total abandonment.
Yemen has been the site of fierce fighting and a de facto civil war over the past two weeks between government troops and the Hashed tribe, the largest tribal group in the country. Nearly 200 have died in the escalation from what was a peaceful, youth-led, months-long struggle for greater democracy in the country. But Saleh’s repeated refusals to step down led the Hashed tribe to resort to armed conflict. After the regime attacked the homes of tribal leaders, the Hashed engaged in their own attack on the Presidential palace, causing the wounding of President Saleh. Several people died in the attack.
Most of the fighting is taking place in Sanaa, the densely packed capital, where residents are fleeing by the thousands.
Pointedly, the US sent top counter-terrorism official John Brennan to the region this week to work on the crisis. Brennan is not a diplomat or a member of the State Department. This signals that the US is more concerned with counter-terrorism operations in the country than reaching a settlement which increases democratic participation.