ADEN, Yemen (AP) — Backers of Yemen's deposed president on Wednesday accused the U.S. ambassador of threatening him with international sanctions if he didn't leave the country by Friday, an allegation American officials later denied.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, believed by some to be orchestrating the Shiite Houthi rebel uprising now in control of the capital of this impoverished Arab nation, angrily rejected the purported demand. A post on his Facebook page read: "The man has not been created or given birth by his mother yet to tell Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave his country."
His General People's Congress party said in a statement that U.S. Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller told its officials through mediators that Saleh had to leave before 5 p.m. Friday, otherwise "sanctions will be imposed against him."
"This is a blatant intervention in Yemen's internal affairs," the party said. "It's rejected and unacceptable."
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki later called the allegation "false."
"There have been no meetings between the ambassador and GPC officials at which any such statements have been made," Psaki said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. asked the U.N. Security Council to freeze the assets and impose a global travel ban on three figures it blamed for orchestrating Yemen's current unrest: Saleh and Houthi leaders Abdel-Khaliq al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim. All 15 members must approve the sanctions for them to take effect and the council set a Friday night deadline for objections, diplomats at the United Nations said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations have been private.
A U.N. diplomat said Saleh's son, Ahmed, was left off the list because of a lack of evidence but stressed that "this is not going to be the last step." A Yemen-based diplomat also said the U.N. planned to use the threat of sanctions to press for a political resolution to the country's current unrest.
The two diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the Security Council's confidential discussions.
The Houthis waged a six-year insurgency against Saleh's government that ended in 2010. An Arab Spring-inspired uprising erupted the following year, and in 2012 Saleh stepped down as part of an internationally-brokered deal. In recent months the Houthis have swept down from their traditional strongholds in the north, capturing Sanaa in September.
The Houthis are widely suspected of having links to Shiite powerhouse Iran. Houthis follow the Shiite Zaydi faith, a branch of Shiite Islam that is almost exclusively found in Yemen. They represent about 30 percent of Yemen's population.
On Wednesday, Houthis overran the city of Adeen, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Sanaa, after nearly two weeks of fighting with al-Qaida militants, security officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Adeen is not the only place where al-Qaida militants and Houthis fighters are engaged in direct confrontations. On Tuesday, US drone strikes and clashes between the two sides killed at least 30 people in the central town of Radda including al-Qaida militants.
Later that day the Sept. 26 website, which is close to Yemen's Defense Ministry, said that a top al-Qaida leader, Shawki Ali Ahmed al-Badani, was among militants killed in drone strikes in Radda.
The State Department has designated al-Badani as a global terrorist and accused him of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Yemen in June 2012. He has also been linked to a suicide bomber who killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers in a May attack that same year, and is believed to have been involved in a vague plot that caused 19 U.S. embassies to close across Africa and the Mideast in the summer of 2013.
Yemen is home to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been linked to a number of foiled or botched attacks on the U.S. homeland.
Houthis accuse the country's embattled leadership of failing to take the lead in combatting the local al-Qaida branch and have vowed to go after it themselves. The Houthis also have an anti-American stance and accuse the West of meddling in Yemen's affairs.
Associated Press writers Matt Lee in Washington, Lara Jakes in Paris, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.