ADEN, Yemen – 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 political 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 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.
Saleh fought the Houthis while president for six years until 2010. After Saleh's was toppled in 2012, Houthis expanded their territorial gains from their stronghold of northern Yemen. Since September, the Houthis have managed to take the capital, Sanaa, as well as other key towns and cities.
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 swept through the city of Adeen, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Sanaa, after repelling al-Qaida militants following nearly two weeks of fighting, 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, clashes between the two sides killed at least 30 people in the central town of Radda.
Houthis accuse the country's embattled leadership of failing to take the lead in combatting its local al-Qaida branch, deemed by Washington as the world's most dangerous offshoot of the terror network, and has vowed to send Houthi militias to combat the extremist group.
The Houthis also have an anti-American stance and accuse the West of meddling in Yemen's affairs. U.S. drone strikes in the country target suspected militants in the country and civilian casualties from the strikes anger many here.
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.