Suspicions are reportedly mounting in Yemen that President Ali Abdullah Saleh is trying to back out of a U.S.-sponsored deal to end his 33-year rein, most recently marked by violent crackdown on a popular uprising.
The news comes as Yemeni press reported that Saleh had decided to stay in the country and postpone any visit abroad — possibly to the US — to seek treatment for an injury sustained in a June bomb blast at his palace.
Saleh in November bowed to months of protests and international pressure by agreeing to a deal put forward by Yemen’s powerful Gulf neighbors granting him immunity from prosecution for alleged crimes committed while in office, but saw him hand over power.
Saleh handed over power to his vice president and a new government headed by an opposition leader has been formed, with a presidential election scheduled for February, but Saleh remains President.
The Associated Press cited opposition leaders and officials close to the president as saying he may "try to use the unstable country's continued unrest to keep his seat on the grounds that Yemen's active Al Qaeda branch will step up operations if he leaves."
Al-Qaeda remains active in Yemen, according to Al Jazeera, which also reported Thursday that the main Shia opposition group in Yemen announced it was establishing a political party — the al-Omma — ahead of the election.
"The president is basically not convinced that he has to leave power, so he will resist with all his remaining force," the AP quoted an unnamed "ruling party figure in Saleh's last government who was close to the president" as saying.
Fueling those concerns was Saleh's decision this week to remain in Yemen during "difficult circumstances that required his presence," a reference to the ongoing unrest, reported by The Yemen News Agency.
Reuters reported Thursday that 18 militants and four Yemeni soldiers were killed in clashes near the southern provincial capital of Zinjibar, in Abyan province.