YEMEN’S EMBATTLED president says Ali Abdullah Saleh has left the country for the Persian Gulf nation of Oman, a spokesman said today.
Ahmed al-Soufi said Saleh flew out of Yemen’s capital Sanaa this afternoon.
Saleh’s departure follows a farewell speech in which he passed power to his deputy, slated to be rubber-stamped as the country’s new leader on February 21. The move could help push forward a US-backed deal brokered by Yemen’s neighbors that seeks to end the country’s political crisis.
For nearly a year, Yemeni protesters have called for the end of Saleh’s 33-year rule. Protesters and human rights groups have criticized the power transfer deal for granting Saleh immunity from prosecution. They want to see him tried for his alleged role in protester deaths.
In his farewell speech Saleh asked Yemenis for forgiveness, saying it was time to hand over power, state media reported.
The mercurial president told Yemeni TV networks that he had formally handed power to his vice president but would return to his homeland before early presidential elections scheduled for next month as the head of the General People’s Congress Party.
The reports come a day after Yemeni parliament approved a law that gives Saleh immunity from prosecution and is in line with the timetable set in a US-backed power-transfer deal aimed at ending months of political stalemate and violence.
Facing continued protests demanding his ouster, Saleh in November agreed to step down. A unity government between his party and the opposition has since been created. However, Saleh — still formally the president — has continued to influence politics from behind the scenes through his family and loyalists in power positions.
The deal was widely rejected by millions of street protesters who have staged anti-Saleh demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring of revolutions that have successfully led to the ouster of autocratic leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters reject the immunity clause, insisting Saleh should be prosecuted for the alleged killings of protesters and corruption.
US authorities have been trying for weeks to find a country where Saleh could live in exile to allow a peaceful transition from his rule of more than 33 years, since it does not want him to settle permanently in the United States.