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U.S. official heads to Yemen

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Tribesmen celebrate in Yemen's second-largest city Taez (Taiz), a flashpoint of anti-regime demonstrations south of the capital Sanaa, on June 5, 2011, as hundreds of people took to the streets to celebrate the departure of long term President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounded in a blast June 3, and who left for treatment in Saudi Arabia. UPI\Mohammad Abdullah
Tribesmen celebrate in Yemen's second-largest city Taez (Taiz), a flashpoint of anti-regime demonstrations south of the capital Sanaa, on June 5, 2011, as hundreds of people took to the streets to celebrate the departure of long term President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounded in a blast June 3, and who left for treatment in Saudi Arabia. UPI\Mohammad Abdullah | License Photo

WASHINGTON, June 21 (UPI) -- Washington said one of the top officials in the U.S. State Department is headed to Yemen to meet with the country's vice president and opposition figures.

Youth leaders behind the opposition to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said they expect to continue speaking with Yemeni Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi. He's met four times in the past two weeks with leaders of the protest movement and asked for more time, yielding to Saleh's authorities.

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Saleh is clinging to power despite months of opposition protests. He had suggested he would sign a deal to step down in exchange for immunity.

Yemen is seen as a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism. Reports allege the CIA is deploying unmanned drones to Yemen as part of a counter-terrorism effort.

The U.S. State Department said Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman would head to Yemen Wednesday to speak with key figures.

"In Yemen, Assistant Secretary Feltman plans to meet with senior government officials, including Acting President al-Hadi, Foreign Minister (Abu Bakr Abdullah) al-Qirbi, members of the opposition, representatives from civil society and other diplomats," a State Department statement read.

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Saleh is expected to return this week to Yemen from Saudi Arabia, where he is recovering from burns and shrapnel wounds suffered during a June 3 attack on his presidential compound.

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