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Hurt Yemeni leader flies to Saudi Arabia for care

SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical care after he was wounded in a rocket attack on his palace, a senior government official said Sunday. Saleh's abrupt departure threatened to deepen the crisis in his impoverished nation shaken by months of protests against his 33-year rule.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (AP-Yonhap News)
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (AP-Yonhap News)


His departure followed intense pressure from his powerful Gulf neighbors and longtime ally Washington to step down. He had agreed to transfer power several times, only to step back at the last moment. Saleh might never return, given the opposition by large segments of the population and a powerful tribal alliance that took up arms after peaceful protests failed to persuade him to step down.

The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said Saleh had flown out of the country with most of his family. The official said he and others had only learned about Saleh's plans after the president had left.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said Saleh arrived in Saudi Arabia late Saturday. It also said the Saudi government wished a speedy recovery to the Yemeni leader and called upon all parties to exercise restraint, noting that Yemen "risks sliding into more violence and fighting."

Washington also has expressed fears that the chaos in Yemen will undermine the U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaida's branch in the country, which has attempted a number of attacks against the United States. Saleh has been a crucial U.S. ally in the anti-terror fight, but Washington is now trying to negotiate a stable exit for him.

The ongoing unrest has cost the government control of some remote provinces and al-Qaida and other Islamist extremists groups have exploited the turmoil to bolster their position in the country.

Yemen's constitution calls for the vice president to take over in the absence of the president, according to the official. Saleh also has been widely believed to be grooming his son, Ahmed, as a successor. Ahmed was believed to have stayed behind in an apparent bid to hold on to power.

The extent of Saleh's injuries has been a matter of intense speculation ever since the rocket struck the mosque in his presidential compound during Friday prayers, splintering the pulpit as he was surrounded by top government officials and bodyguards. Eleven guards died, and five officials standing nearby were seriously wounded and taken to Saudi Arabia.

The president delivered an audio address afterward, his voice labored, with only an old photo shown.

The Saudi king waded into the conflict after nearly four months of largely peaceful protests seeking to depose Saleh morphed into an increasingly bloody civil conflict. Past cease-fires have not held, and international diplomacy has so far failed.

Opposition tribesmen directly attacked Saleh for the first time when they landed the rockets on the mosque.

A secretary in Saleh's office and a ruling party official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, said Saleh spoke to the Saudi monarch afterward.

The rocket attack capped weeks of violence that erupted in the capital, Sanaa, on May 23. Residents have been hiding in basements as the two sides fight for control of government ministries and hammer one another in artillery duels and gunbattles, rattling neighborhoods and sending smoke billowing into the air.

Inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, protesters have been trying unsuccessfully since February to oust Saleh with a wave of peaceful protests that have brought out hundreds of thousands daily in cities across Yemen.

The crisis then transformed into a power struggle between two of Yemen's most powerful families — Saleh's, which dominates the security forces, and the al-Ahmar clan, which leads Yemen's strongest tribal confederation. The confederation groups around 10 northern tribes.

Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation, announced his backing for the protest movement in March, but it was only when Saleh's troops moved against al-Ahmar's residence in Sanaa last week that Hashid fighters erupted in retaliation, and the battles have escalated since.

 

(관련기사)

예멘대통령 치료차 사우디 도착

반정부 부족의 공격으로 부상한 알 리 압둘라 살레 예멘 대통령이 치료를 위해 사우디아라비아에 도착했다고 사우디 왕 실이 5일 밝혔다.

사우디 왕실은 "예멘 대통령이 역시 부상한 관리 및 시민들과 함께 치료를 받기 위해 도착했다"고 전했다.

앞서 소식통들은 살레 대통령을 태운 비행기가 사우디 수도 리야드의  공군기지 에 도착했다고 전했으며, 함께 도착한 또다른 비행기에는 35명이 타고 있었다고  전 했다.

사우디 고위 관리의 영접을 받은 살레 대통령은 비행기를 걸어내려왔지만 목과 머리, 얼굴 등의 부상이 분명히 드러났다고 또다른 소식통은 전했다.

앞서 사우디 정부 소식통은 살레 대통령이 반정부 부족의 포격으로 입은 목과 가슴의 상처를 사우디에서 치료할 예정이라고 밝힌 바 있다.

영국 BBC방송은 살레 측근을 인용, 살레 대통령이 심장 아래에 7.6㎝의 포탄 파 편을 맞았으며, 가슴과 얼굴에 2도 화상을 입었다고 전했다.

지난 3일 대통령궁에 대한 반정부 부족의 공격으로 경호원 등 7명이 사망했으며 , 살레 대통령뿐 아니라 정부 관리들도 부상했다.

예멘 총리와 부총리 2명, 의회 상하원 의장 등도 사우디 리야드에서 치료를  받 고 있는 것으로 전해졌다.

로이터통신은 살레 대통령이 이처럼 불안한 시기에 출국하는 것은 설사 그것이 치료 목적이더라도 권력 유지를 어렵게 만들 수 있으며 권력 이양의 첫 단계로 간주

될 수 있다고 분석했다.  

아랍에미리트(UAE)의 정치학 교수인 압델칼레크 압달라는 "(예멘에서는) 긴장이 더해가고 있고 사람들은 인내심을 잃어가고 있기 때문에 건강을 구실로 떠난 것은 아마도 최고의 출구전략일 수 있다"고 진단했다.

앞서 사우디 관리는 사우디가 예멘 부족 연합과 살레 친위부대 간 새로운  휴전 을 중재했다고 전했으며, 한 부족 지도자도 자신의 부족이 이를 따르고 있다고 밝혔 다.

일주일 전에도 사우디 중재로 양측은 휴전에 합의했지만, 하루 만에 깨졌다. 

한편, 야권 부족 지도자인 하미드 알-아흐마르의 근거지에 대한 예멘 정부의  포 격으로 인한 사망자가 4일 현재 19명으로 늘었으며 35명이 부상했다고 야권 매체인 알마스다르 온라인이 전했다.

예멘군은 대통령궁이 공격을 받은 뒤 알-아흐마르의 근거지에 공격을  퍼부었으 며, 살레에 등을 돌린 알리 모흐센 알-아흐마르 소장의 자택도 폭격한 것으로  알려 졌다.

(연합뉴스)

 

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