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Party official: Saleh to return to Yemen Sunday

From Hakim Almasmari, For CNN
Yemeni men and children hold up portraits of President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a pro-regime rally in Sanaa on July 1.
Yemeni men and children hold up portraits of President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a pro-regime rally in Sanaa on July 1.
  • President Ali Abdullah Saleh took office July 17, 1978
  • He was severely burned in an attack June 3 and had 8 surgeries in Saudi Arabia
  • The president has refused to sign a deal that includes his removal from power

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- President Ali Abdullah Saleh will return to his country Sunday, a homecoming that also marks the 33rd anniversary of his rule, a senior ruling party official said Wednesday.

Zaid Thari, a political advisor for Saleh's ruling General People Congress Party, said the president's health is improving quickly and that Yemenis will celebrate his return.

"The Yemeni government all along insisted that Saleh's health situation was not major," Thari said.

Saleh has been undergoing medical treatment in Saudi Arabia following a June 3 attack on the presidential compound that left him severely burned.

But even during his treatments -- which included eight surgeries -- Saleh was under pressure to embrace a political transition plan developed by the Gulf Cooperation Council that included plans for him to step down, following months of widening anti-government protests and sentiment in his country.

Thari said a massive celebration is being planned for the president's homecoming, and that Saleh will decide upon his return "what is best for Yemen and the ruling party."

Officials in Sanaa have rejected calls for Saleh to leave office, saying that no power has the authority to force Saleh to step down.

"No one will lead the ruling party, only Saleh. He is the constitutional president and unless he steps down willingly, the Yemeni people will support him to the last man," said Abdu al-Ganadi, the government's spokesman.

John Brennan, U.S. President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, visited Saleh in Saudi Arabia Sunday. Brennan wished the Yemeni president "a speedy recovery" but also "emphasized the importance of resolving the political crisis in Sanaa," the White House said in a statement on the meeting. He urged Saleh to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council's political transition plan.

Saleh has voiced agreement with the plan, which would ensure his gradual departure from office, but he has not signed it. Saleh told Brennan that the GCC initiative laid the groundwork for exiting the political crisis through national dialogue involving all political parties, Yemen's state-run Saba news agency reported.

Ahmed Bahri, head of the political department at the opposition Haq party, said the United States was not doing enough and that they are forcing the people of Yemen to use force in order to have their demands met. "The Yemeni revolution vowed to stay peaceful, but now is the time to review that stance. The use of force might be needed to oust the Saleh regime from power," said Bahri.

Pro-democracy activists said that if Saleh is allowed to come back to Yemen, it would reveal the amount of hatred the United States and Saudi Arabia have for the youth revolutionists. "The United States always said they supported the youth in Yemen, but we are coming to know that that is not true," said Waseen Qirshi, the spokesman for the revolution youth organizing committee.