Saleh heads to US after London stopover

2012-01-28 19:46
London - Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is due to step down next month, headed for medical treatment in the United States on Saturday after a stopover in Britain, Yemeni and British officials said.

Saleh, who had mistakenly been reported to have left Oman earlier this week, flew from the sultanate to Stansted airport, just outside London, Yemen's state news agency Saba reported.

In London, a foreign office spokesperson confirmed that Saleh's plane was scheduled to land at a UK commercial airport to refuel on the way to the United States.

"This is a routine event. Neither the president nor any of his party are expected to enter the UK," the spokesman said.

Saleh's flight was due to have left Stansted at 15:00 GMT and continue on to New York after a one-hour refuelling stop, a British source later told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After months of deadly protests, the Yemeni leader finally signed a power transfer deal in November that effectively ended his three decades in power.

He had been in Oman since last Sunday with his wife and five of his children amid mounting speculation about his future.

Saleh suffered severe wounds from a bombing at the presidential palace in Sanaa last June after which he was treated in Saudi Arabia. He is scheduled to receive further treatment at a New York hospital.

The US ambassador to Yemen, Gerald M Feierstein, said on Tuesday that Saleh had been granted a visa for purely medical reasons, but that his absence in the run-up to the election of his successor was in the interests of Yemen.

"We think that him not being here will help the transition; we think it will improve the atmosphere," the ambassador said.

Saleh had been expected to travel to New York for treatment late last year, but aides said he cancelled the trip at the request of his General People's Congress party.

On January 21, parliament approved a controversial bill granting Saleh blanket immunity from prosecution. He has been in power in Sanaa since 1978.

Feierstein said the decision to offer him immunity was key to ending the political crisis and avoiding civil war.

The US state department said "Saleh is still the president of Yemen and will be accorded those privileges and immunities accorded to any head of state" until his deputy is sworn in as president in the February 21 election.

The Yemeni embassy in Washington said Saleh will, following "a private medical visit" to the United States, return to "Yemen in February to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected president."

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