US, Europe Engage Yemeni Officials as Saleh Recovers

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 9:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Yemeni government and opposition officials met separately with U.S. and European diplomats Sunday as President Ali Abdullah Saleh recovered from a successful operation in Saudi Arabia to remove shrapnel from his chest.

Mr. Saleh was wounded in a rocket attack Friday on his presidential compound. He was later flown to a military hospital in Riyadh along with several high-ranking officials. The Yemeni leader is expected to remain in Saudi Arabia for two weeks.

Ruling party officials insist Mr. Saleh will return to Yemen, but analysts say it is not clear whether his Saudi hosts will allow him to come back as president. Before his departure, Mr. Saleh handed power to Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur Hadi.

Mr. Hadi met with U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein Sunday to discuss cooperation with Yemen's opposition coalition. Mr. Hadi also met separately with military commanders, including several of Mr. Saleh's sons.

The Washington Post reported that U.S. and European diplomats, including Feierstein, urged Yemen's opposition to refrain from setting up interim government committees before Mr. Saleh is formally out of power. The newspaper cited a U.S. embassy spokeswoman as saying Washington is continuing attempts to push its onetime ally out of power.

Late Sunday, a Saudi-brokered truce between government troops and forces loyal to opposition tribal leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar appeared to hold, offering some peace to weary residents of the capital, Sana'a, where scores of people were killed in two weeks of fighting.

Mr. Hadi ordered his forces to vacate opposition-controlled areas of the capital, while al-Ahmar began to evacuate his militia from government buildings and called for an end to the fighting.

Joyful celebrations broke out in Yemen Sunday, after word spread that the embattled Mr. Saleh had left the country. In Sana'a, people danced, sang and slaughtered a few cows in what protesters renamed Change Square. But expressions of concern also emerged about whether Mr. Saleh's 33 years in power have really come to an end.

The president's departure did not stop the violence. In Taiz, gunmen attacked the presidential compound, killing four soldiers.

Nearly 400 people have been killed since the popular uprising against Mr. Saleh began in January.