Tenuous truce in Yemen amid uncertainty

President Ali Abdullah Saleh recovering from surgery in Saudi Arabia amid speculations over his rule.

    A truce seems to be holding between rival groups in the Yemeni capital Sanaa following two weeks of fierce clashes as Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country's president, recovers in neighbouring Saudi Arabia from wounds that he sustained in an attack last week on his presidential palace.

    Saleh's trip to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, has triggered speculations over his rule and Yemen's political future. There had been scenes of wild celebrations in Sanaa as Saleh's opponents viewed his departure as the fall of his regime.

    But Abdu al-Janadi, Yemen's deputy information minister, insisted the president would return to assume his duties after his treatment.

    "Saleh will come back. Saleh is in good health, and he may give up the authority one day but it has to be in a constitutional way," he said.

    Not everyone, however, is convinced that Saleh would return in the face of escalating protests sweeping the country against his 33-year rule.

    Joseph Kechichian, an expert in Middle East affairs, told Al Jazeera that it was very doubtful Saleh would return.

    "If the injuries were not serious, I doubt very much that he'd have gone to Saudi Arabia. He'd not have left unless the injuries were really severe.

    "On a scale of 1 to 100, that possibility is 3 [of his return to Yemen]. Saudis would be reluctant to let him leave."

    Civil war fears

    Anti-government protests - inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt - have raged since early February, dragging Yemen to the brink of civil war. A powerful leader of the influential Hashed tribe threw his weight behind the protesters, sparking bloody battles between Saleh's troops and tribesmen.

    The unrest left hundreds dead and Saleh himself was wounded after his palace came under rocket attack last Friday.

    He left for Riyadh on Saturday and underwent surgery on Sunday.

    Many believe Saleh's injuries and his treatment abroad provide him with what could turn out to be a face-saving solution to exit power.

    "This is exactly what needed to happen," said Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    "He needed to leave in order to get past this political deadlock that has been cursing Yemen for the past few months."

    Rick Nelson, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there was no chance of Saleh returning to Yemen and it was unlikely anyone linked to him could maintain power and control.

    "I can't see any remnant of the Saleh government staying in place after this," Nelson said.


    With Saleh away in Saudi Arabia, a sense of calm has returned to Sanaa. The al-Ahmar group, leading Yemen's Hashed tribal federation in battles against troops loyal to Saleh, has agreed to abide by a truce, the opposition said on Sunday.

    Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the acting president, has also offered to withdraw troops from the Sanaa neighbourhood that has seen the heaviest fighting and lift roadblocks for the main routes into the capital.

    Late on Sunday, opposition members and ruling party officials said negotiations had begun based on a US-backed Gulf Arab plan to end the crisis. 

    Saleh's departure could allow Yemen's powerful Gulf neighbours to push forward a power transition deal. Details of how this would proceed remained unclear.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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