x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

President Saleh will not return to Yemen: Saudi official

The Yemeni leader has been undergoing treatment for shrapnel wounds after a mosque inside his compound was shelled amid protests to oust him from power.

RIYADH // Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, being treated for shrapnel wounds in Riyadh, will not return home, a top Saudi official told AFP on Friday, contrary to Sanaa's claims that he will return soon.

"The Yemeni president will not return to Yemen," the official said, requesting anonymity.

"It has not been decided where he will stay," the official added, apparently suggesting that Saleh might eventually leave Saudi Arabia for another country.

The official did not specify whether the decision not to return home was taken by Saleh himself.

The veteran leader was flown to Riyadh on June 4 on board a Saudi medical aircraft, a day after he was wounded in a bomb explosion at a mosque inside his Sanaa presidential compound.

He has not been seen in public since the attack.

Reports on the condition of Saleh's health have been sketchy, but Bahrain's King Hamad was reported to have called him on Thursday, two days after Saudi King Abdullah had a phone conversation with him.

In Saleh's absence, his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has been coming under intensive local and international pressure to heed the demands of protesters to set up an interim ruling council, which would prevent Saleh returning to power.

On Wednesday, Hadi met representatives of youth protests which have raged since late January demanding the ouster of Saleh. They pressed him to give a clear stance on their demands, and gave him two weeks to respond.

The meeting followed talks between Hadi and the parliamentary opposition in which they agreed on calming the situation as a first step towards reviving the political process.

Washington on Thursday welcomed Hadi's talks with opponents of Saleh, who was a key US-ally in the war on Al-Qaeda.

"We have been encouraged that Vice President Hadi has started some outreach to the opposition and started some dialogue," said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

"Because, as you know, we believe that there is no time to lose in moving on to the democratic future that Yemen deserves," she added.

Protesters had on Monday given Hadi 24 hours to declare his position on their call for him to join the proposed council which they said would lead the country for a maximum of nine months.

The activists said the council would "appoint a nationalist and compatible figure to form a government of technocrats."

They also called for the dissolution of parliament and Yemen's consultative council, for the formation of a committee to draw up a new constitution, and for dates to hold a referendum on the constitution and for elections.

The ruling General People's Congress and government officials have been adamant that Saleh was quickly recovering and that he would return to Yemen soon.

Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, has steadfastly refused to endorse a Gulf states proposal for him to transfer power to his deputy and resign in return for parliamentary immunity against prosecution.

His presidential term is due to end in 2013.