REPORTING FROM SANA, YEMEN -- President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Saturday he would soon leave Yemen for the United States to help make way for elections for his replacement, even as forces loyal to him opened fire on protesters, killing at least nine.
Demonstrators had marched for four days from the city of Taiz, a major opposition center, to the capital, Sana, to demand that Saleh face trial for the deaths of scores of protesters in the government's crackdown on an 11-month-old uprising.
Under an agreement reached last month, endorsed by the United States and Persian Gulf nations, Saleh is to be granted immunity in return for stepping down after elections scheduled for Feb. 21. He has already transferred most authority to his vice president, but retains the title of president.
As thousands of demonstrators entered Sana chanting, "No to immunity," shots rang out. Witnesses said troops loyal to Saleh used guns, tear gas and water cannons to prevent protesters from approaching Saleh's compound, which was surrounded by tanks and other armored vehicles.
At least nine people were killed and scores injured, according to news service reports. The demonstrators later retreated to Change Square, epicenter of the uprising against Saleh.
Earlier this month, Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi presided over the installation of a unity government, including members of Saleh's party and the opposition, to manage the transition.
But Saturday's clashes underscored the limits of Hadi's authority while members of Saleh's family and other loyalists remain in influential positions, a major complaint of the demonstrators. Forces loyal to Saleh defied an ultimatum from Hadi to withdraw from the streets of Sana by Saturday.
Saleh did not specify Saturday when he would leave for the U.S., where the United Nations envoy to Yemen has said the president will receive treatment for injuries sustained during a June assassination attempt.
“I will leave for the United States in the coming days, not for treatment, but to get out of sight," Saleh told reporters.
He said he might undergo some medical checkups, but insisted he was fine and would soon be back to work with his party in the opposition.
-- Zaid al-Alayaa. Alexandra Zavis in Beirut contributed to this report.
Photo: Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Sana on Saturday. Credit: Mohammed Hamoud / Associated Press