Wounded Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, not seen in public since an attack on his palace in early June, is well enough to soon return to Yemen and will make a media appearance within the next couple of days, sources said.
Speculation about Saleh’s health and the likelihood of his return to Yemen has been rife since he was hurt when a bomb went off on June 3 in a mosque in his presidential palace. He flew to Saudi Arabia for treatment, leaving behind a country on the verge of civil war.
The president has not been seen in public since the explosion, which killed several people and wounded the prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and the speakers of both parliamentary chambers. It is not clear what role if any Saleh, under pressure to step down, sees for himself in ruling Yemen.
“He will appear within the next 48 hours despite our fear that the burns on his features and on different parts of his body will be an obstacle given that his appearance will not be as the media expects it,” said Ahmed al-Sufi, the president’s media secretary.
A nearly failed state, Yemen has been rocked by months of protests against Saleh’s three decades of rule. Before that he was grappling with a rebellion in the north, separatist violence in the south and a resurgent wing of Al Qaeda.
Sufi said Saleh was in good health and continued to direct Yemeni affairs from abroad. Saleh’s deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has been at the helm while the president recovers.
A source close to the president said Saleh’s condition was good enough to allow him to travel to Yemen soon.
“The bomb in the mosque was in close proximity to the president when it went off. He was really lucky to get out,” the source, who was with Saleh during the attack, told Reuters.
Saleh is suffering from burns but they cover less than 40% of his body, the source said, addressing reports in recent weeks about the extent of his injuries.
Yemeni officials previously accused an opposition tribal coalition of shelling the palace, which it denied.
Last week, a Western diplomat said Saleh was unlikely to return home soon, as Saudi Arabia and the US continue to push for a transfer of power under an existing Gulf Arab proposal for a transition in Yemen.
They fear a power vacuum and tribal warfare will be exploited by the local wing of Al Qaeda to launch attacks in the Gulf region and beyond.
Tens of thousands marched in Sanaa yesterday to demand Saleh leave power, condemning the US and Saudi Arabia for what they saw as a failure to take a strong stand against him.
“The position of the US and Saudi Arabia is against our revolution … We want a transition council to be set up and for the remainders of the regime to leave,” said demonstrator Imar Naji, referring to Saleh’s sons who hold top military and security posts.
The proposal by Gulf Arab neighbours calls for Saleh to hand power over to Vice President Hadi, who is acting president, as a step towards forming a new government and preparing for an election.
Ahmed Saleh, the president’s son who heads the elite Republican Guards, said he backed Hadi’s “efforts … and meetings with opposition leaders and representatives of the international community to resolve the crisis…”
But he also voiced support for “constitutional legitimacy”, terms often used by Saleh backers to justify his refusal to leave power, according to a statement on a defence ministry website.
Upon his return, President Saleh aims to propose two solutions, the source close to Saleh said.
“The first is to shift all power to the parliament and become just a figurehead,” said the source. “The second will be to let a coalition government be formed and then hold early presidential elections and leave quietly.” Gulf Times