LONDON, (AFP) — Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is due to step down next month, landed in Britain on Saturday from Oman on his way to the United States for medical treatment, Yemeni and British officials said.
Saleh, who had mistakenly been reported to have left the Gulf sultanate earlier this week, arrived on Saturday afternoon at Stansted airport, just outside London, the Yemeni defence ministry’s news website Sept.net said.
In London, a Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that Saleh’s plane was scheduled to land at a UK commercial airport on Saturday to refuel on the way to the United States.
“This is a routine event. Neither the president nor any of his party are expected to enter the UK,” the spokesman said.
After months of deadly protests, the Yemeni leader finally signed a power transfer deal in November that effectively ended his three decades in power.
He had been in Oman since Sunday with his wife and five of his children amid mounting speculation about his future.
Saleh suffered severe wounds from a bombing at the presidential palace in June and is scheduled to receive treatment at a New York hospital.
US Ambassador Gerald M Feierstein said on Tuesday that Saleh had been granted a visa for purely medical reasons, but that his absence in the run-up to the election of his successor was in the interests of Yemen.
“We think that him not being here will help the transition; we think it will improve the atmosphere,” the ambassador said.
Saleh had been expected to travel to New York for treatment late last year, but aides said he cancelled the trip at the request of his General People’s Congress party.
Late last week, parliament approved a controversial bill granting Saleh blanket immunity from prosecution. He has been in power in Sanaa since 1978.
Feierstein said the decision to offer him immunity was key to ending the political crisis and avoiding civil war.
In response to a question, the State Department said “Saleh is still the president of Yemen and will be accorded those privileges and immunities accorded to any head of state until a new Yemeni president is sworn in following elections on February 21.”
The Yemeni embassy in Washington said Saleh will, following “a private medical visit” to the United States, return to “Yemen in February to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected president.”