|Protests demanding the removal of the president have been ongoing in Yemen since February [EPA]|
The administration of US President Barack Obama is considering whether to allow Yemen’s president into the country for medical treatment, as fresh violence and political tensions flare in the outgoing leader’s home nation.
“US officials are continuing to consider President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh’s request to enter the country with the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment, but initial reports that permission has been granted are not true,” Josh Earnest, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said on Tuesday.
On Monday, a senior administration official said Saleh’s office requested that he be allowed to receive specialised treatment in the US for injuries sustained in a June attack on his compound.
Saleh had insisted he was going in order to help calm tensions in his country, not for medical treatment. The official, who requested anonymity, did not say when the Obama administration would decide on Saleh’s request.
Demonstrators began protesting against Saleh and calling for his ouster in February. The Yemeni government responded with a bloody crackdown, leaving hundreds of protesters dead, and stoking fears of instability in a nation already grappling with three separatist revolts.
Last month, Saleh agreed to a deal, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and other countries, to hand power over to his vice-president and commit to stepping down completely in exchange for immunity. The deal further angered Saleh’s opponents, who demanded he be tried for attacks on protesters.
Pressure has been mounting in recent weeks for Saleh to leave Yemen altogether. Opponents say he has continued to wield influence through his loyalists and relatives still in positions of power, hampering the transition ahead of presidential elections set for February 21. Many feared he would find a way to continue his rule.
Activists said troops commanded by Saleh’s relatives attacked protesters in the capital of Sanaa on Saturday, killing at least nine people.
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated the following day, protesting the deaths and demanding the resignation of Vice-President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi for failing to bring the killers to justice.
The White House said Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, called Hadi on Sunday and emphasised the need for Yemeni security forces to show “maximum restraint” when dealing with demonstrations.
Hadi told Brennan that he had launched an investigation into the recent deaths and injuries and would do his utmost to prevent further bloodshed, the White House said.
It said Brennan and Hadi agreed on the importance of continuing with the agreed-upon path of political transition in Yemen in order to ensure that the February elections take place.
The US has experience with letting unpopular foreign leaders into this country for medical treatment.
More than three decades ago, President Jimmy Carter allowed the exiled shah of Iran into the US for medical treatment in October 1979, eight months after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led a revolution that ousted the shah and created the Islamic Republic of Iran.