Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh narrowly survived a rocket attack on his presidential palace two weeks ago, fleeing to Saudi Arabia for surgery. Since arriving in Saudi Arabia, a total lack of public appearances has led to speculation that his injuries are either far more grave than anyone has let on or that he may have passed away already.
If he is alive, he is facing an extremely dire situation at home, with secessionists, pro-democracy protests and militants threatening his control over virtually every inch of Yemeni soil. Even his key US allies have abandoned him, calling for him to be replaced with his interim president, Major General Hadi.
So when a Saudi official announced today that Saleh simply isn’t coming back to Yemen, it surprised very few people. The official even said it hadn’t been decided where Saleh would end up, suggesting he might be heading into exile someplace else.
Almost immediately thereafter, however, the Yemeni government shot back that this claim was untrue. Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi insisted that not only was Saleh still returning, it would be in a matter of days.
Saleh’s ruling party is claiming a celebration is being planned for his return. But are these claims authentic or is the regime simply attempting to keep Saleh’s return on the table as a bargaining chip, and to prevent the pro-democracy protesters’ calls for an interim government and free elections from going to far.