Yemeni president no longer seeks U.S. trip


Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh will not travel to the U.S. for medical treatment and will instead remain in his country, a senior official from the ruling party said Wednesday.

Sheik Mohammed al-Shaif, a powerful tribal chief and leading member in the ruling General People’s Congress party, said Saleh’s decision to remain in Yemen came after his party urged him not to leave. Earlier Saleh said he would travel to the U.S., but he did not say when.

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. had not decided about whether to allow Saleh into the country, and he would not say when the decision would be made.

Al-Shaif told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Saleh is needed in Yemen to implement a power transfer deal he signed last year.

He said officials “urged President Saleh to refrain from traveling to the U.S. or elsewhere and told him that in this difficult time, they have requested his presence.”

“They believe that his travel will create a dangerous situation on the ground and for the party,” al-Shaif said.

Saleh is said to be concerned that his relatives and backers will be purged from power and wants to remain in Yemen to torpedo that.

Saleh signed the power transfer deal in November, under international pressure. The deal stipulates that Saleh will hand over authority to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators. The deal has not gone into effect, awaiting approval by Yemen’s government.

In the meantime, Saleh remains in office, though his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, ordered the formation of a new national unity government.

Opposition figures charge that Saleh is still trying to run the country, despite his signing the power transfer deal under heavy international pressure and after months of stalling.

Saleh had said he was planning a trip to the U.S. for medical treatment, leaving the scene of months of turmoil and armed clashes that allowed al Qaeda-linked militants to solidify their positions in the country’s south.

On Wednesday, Islamic militants stormed a hotel where alcohol is served in a southern Yemeni city, setting the building on fire, killing two people and wounding 20.

The brazen attack illustrated how the militants have gained strength and are showing increased boldness in southern Yemen.

The hotel became a target for the militants because Muslims are forbidden from drinking alcohol.

A hotel guest said about five masked gunmen stormed the hotel in the morning, shooting in all directions. Then they poured fuel on the hotel’s carpets and set them on fire. The guest spoke on condition of anonymity fearing militants’ reprisal.

Nabil Mohammed Youssef, who lives near the hotel in Aden, said many hotel guests jumped from their rooms on the second and third floors, while others made their escape using bed sheets tied together.