Ali Abdullah Saleh Flying to Saudi Arabia for Possible Neurosurgery [Updated]

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Abdullah Saleh. Photo: Gamal Noman/AFP/Getty Images

Embattled Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been rumored to be stepping down for a while now, plans to fly to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, after being wounded during an attack on the presidential compound Friday. The attack came amid weeks of fighting between the Yemeni government and tribal forces. Saleh's trip to Saudi Arabia may prove problematic, leaving Yemen leaderless as it struggles with an economic crisis and regular violence. Plus, Saleh may not get a hug when — or if — he gets back Yemen: "He might have trouble returning, given the violent struggle with powerful tribal rivals now under way and the tremendous pressure he has faced to step down," according to the New York Times. There's currently no clear plan for political transition, should Saleh end up taking a permanent leave of absence. [NYT]

Update: Yemen's Vice President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has reportedly taken over as acting president and supreme commander of the armed forces, while Abdullah tends his wounds. [Reuters, Al Jazeera]

Update: Western diplomatic sources on Sunday said Ali Abdullah Saleh is undergoing neurosurgery in Saudi Arabia. Saleh's rep, however, says, "Saleh is not sick and he will be back in Yemen soon." Yemeni officials are now investigating whether a local branch of Al Qaeda was behind the attack that injured Saleh, after initially blaming Yemeni rebels. Meanwhile, the country's largest opposition bloc is vowing to keep the president from returning to the country. [CNN]