Yemeni President's Departure Leaves Power Vacuum in War on Terror Ally

Power Vacuum Effect in Yemen
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Demonstrators in Yemen today celebrated after the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh for Saudi Arabia to seek medical attention, but there were concerns about the possible power vacuum in the troubled country if the president does not return.

The long-time dictator was wounded Friday in a rocket or mortar attack that hit a mosque in his compound, and fled the country under a veil of secrecy Saturday to neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The government had at first reported that Saleh suffered only a minor injury in the attack, and said the president would soon hold a news conference. Saleh never appeared before the cameras. When an audio recording was finally broadcast, the president sounded sedated.

The attack came after more than four months of pro-democracy protests that have rocked the country, with the government trying to violently suppress the demonstrations.

Gleeful crowds took to the streets, singing their nation's anthem, but it remains to be seen whether the president's departure is really the first sign of progress since protests began to force the authoritarian leader to give up power.

However, questions grew Sunday about the future of the country, a key ally of the United States in the war on terror, if this marked the end of Saleh's 33-year regime.

"President Saleh leaves behind a crisis," ABC News "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour said. "A power vacuum in a poor, divided, and heavily armed country spells trouble for stability, and troubles specifically for the war on al Qaeda's network there."

The crisis could create more challenges for U.S. interests, because of the strong presence of al Qaeda in Yemen. Anwar Awlaki, the American-born man considered by man to be the world's most dangerous terrorist, lives in Yemen.

"It is safe to say what happens in Yemen matters more than what comes next in Libya," Amanpour said.

Saleh has not officially stepped down, leaving many to question if the embattled president will continue to cling to power or if the attack was the blow that will finally put an end to his reign.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabian officials urged the Yemeni president to bring about a peaceful end to the civil disruption and if there is a transition of power in Yemen, the Saudis would likely have a direct influence.

The United States views Yemen as a key ally in its fight against al Qaeda, but the Yemen leader's exit could create opportunity for opposition forces.

Following the attack, and in accordance with Yemen's constitution, power was passed to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who will command the armed forces and security services.

Soon after Saleh's exit, the Yemen Times, an English language newspaper in Yemen, reported violence and unrest and locals living near the presidential palace continued to evacuate their homes.

Tribesman are being held responsible for the attack, in which 11 guards were killed and five government officials were seriously injured, the BBC reported.

The anti-government protests began in February soon after Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's authoritarian leader, was forced to give up power after massive pro-democracy demonstrations.

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