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Yemenis protest Saleh presence in U.S.

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NEW YORK — Activists protested Thursday outside the luxury New York hotel where they believe Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh is staying while seeking medical treatment.

The Yemeni leader’s whereabouts have not been confirmed since he arrived in the United States Saturday on a chartered flight. US authorities let him in to receive treatment for wounds suffered in an assassination attempt.

Protesters and Yemeni opposition supporters say they have firm information that Saleh is staying at the Ritz-Carlton, a grand hotel overlooking Central Park in Manhattan.

Standing on the sidewalk opposite the hotel, about a dozen activists waved placards with slogans like “democracies should not host dictators,” as well as gory photographs of people apparently killed in Yemen’s year-long pro-democracy protests.

Yemen’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakkol Karman, spoke to the protest via cellphone from Sanaa and denounced US President Barack Obama’s government for welcoming Saleh.

“We are so disappointed that Saleh is staying in one of New York city’s hotels,” Karman said in comments relayed to the gathering by New York-based Yemeni activist Ibraham Qatabi. “Saleh should be held accountable and referred to the International Criminal Court.”

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The protesters looked and gestured up at the facade of the Ritz-Carlton, where occasional glimpses could be had of cleaning staff piling white pillows on window ledges.

A half dozen police officers stood outside the main entrance. Two more could be seen in the lobby.

However, the hotel would not comment on claims that Saleh was staying there.

“It’s our policy not to comment on any guest we might have staying with us,” David Taylor, director of sales for the hotel, told AFP.

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At the reception desk, a clerk smiled, saying: “We wouldn’t comment even if it was a Mr Jones.”

Michelle Kissenkoetter, from the International Federation for Human Rights, said the protest wanted “to draw attention that he’s in the city, that he’s been welcomed in the United States, whether he’s in that hotel enjoying champagne or not.”

Activists later spotted what they said were Yemeni officials entering the hotel. The quiet protest turned noisy.

“When the butcher of Yemen comes to our city here… we will chant outside his window,” Ahmed Eltouny, an Egyptian community activist, said.

Under pressure from the mass protests and bloody violence, Saleh has agreed to step down, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. He is handing power to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who is the sole candidate for next month’s presidential polls.

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