President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled Yemen since 1978
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- seen here in December 2011 -- has said that he will leave to the United States for medical treatment and asked his people for forgiveness, in a farewell speech published by state media. © Mohammed Huwais - AFP/File
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled Yemen since 1978
Last updated: January 22, 2012

Yemen's Saleh to leave for US

President Ali Abdullah Saleh left Yemen Sunday for neighbouring Oman from where he will go to the United States for treatment, hours after making a farewell speech asking his people to forgive him.

Saleh headed for Oman "where he will spend a few days before going to the United States," Abdulhafiz al-Nahari, spokesman for Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party, told reporters.

The US trip, which Washington confirmed, "is for medical treatment and is not official," Nahari said.

In a televised farewell speech delivered just hours before he left, Saleh said he will head to the United States for medical treatment and asked Yemenis for forgiveness.

"I will go to the United States for treatment and will then return as head of the GPC party," said Saleh, whom Yemeni protesters want brought to justice for his regime's deadly crackdown on dissent.

"I ask for forgiveness from all my people, men and women, for any shortcomings during my 33-year-long rule," he added.

Diplomats in Sanaa said that Saleh's eldest son Ahmed -- who commands the feared Republican Guard -- was "already in Oman" to prepare for his father's arrival.

A senior GPC official, Sultan al-Barakani, said last week that Saleh, who remains honorary president, would travel abroad.

"In the coming days, he will visit the sultanate of Oman and then Ethiopia before travelling to New York for treatment" for wounds sustained in an explosion at the presidential palace last June, Barakani told AFP.

"Once he has completed his treatment in New York, he will return to Yemen to continue leading the party."

Washington said that it had agreed to Saleh's request to visit for medical treatment, but with the understanding that he would stay for a "limited time."

"Ali Abdullah Saleh's request to travel to the US for medical treatment has been approved," the State Department said.

"As we have indicated, the sole purpose of this travel is for medical treatment and we expect that he will stay for a limited time that corresponds to the duration of this treatment."

Analysts said previously Saleh would face stringent conditions in return for admission to a New York hospital, possibly including a ban on media interviews to deprive him of a political platform.

His departure came a day after parliament adopted a law giving Saleh "complete" immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down, under a transition deal brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

The law, which also grants limited immunity to his aides, has drawn wide condemnation from young protesters, who have seen hundreds of their compatriots killed by Saleh's security forces and loyalists since the uprising against his rule broke out in January 2011.

It has also been strongly criticised by Western rights groups and the United Nations.

Saleh in his farewell speech defended the law, saying that those who have benefited from it are "all those who have worked with the president during a 33-year-long rule."

"If there had been mistakes, then they were unintentional as the president has immunity from his own people to whom he had dedicated his life to serve for this nation," Saleh said, calling for "reconciliation."

"The poor youths (who have continued) sit-ins for 11 months, go back to your homes and families and open up a new page with the new leadership. I feel sorry for you," he said.

Parliament on Saturday also adopted a law approving Saleh's long-time deputy, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who sat beside him during the speech, as the consensus candidate in the February 21 election to succeed him.

Hadi will then be "handed over the presidential palace while Ali Abdullah Saleh will take his bag, bid farewell, and leave to his own home," the Saba news agency quoted the veteran president as saying.

"I announce from here, out of respect and appreciation for Hadi's stances and efforts, his promotion to the rank of marshal," Saleh said.

"I call on all the people of the nation to cooperate with him (Hadi) and with the unity government to correct and rebuild what has been destroyed during the past" year, the 69-year-old said.

"I thank our people men and women for their honest stances and for all they have tolerated during 11 months of hunger, power cuts, and a lack of services as well as many other things. I salute these steadfast and heroic people."

Saleh's defiant months-long clinging to power triggered political deadlock that threw Yemen into chaos and left the economy of the already poor country in a shambles.

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