REPORTING FROM CAIRO, WASHINGTON AND SANA, YEMEN -- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left his battered nation Sunday and headed to the U.S. for medical treatment. The mercurial leader asked his countrymen to forgive him for years of turmoil and vowed to return to the Arabian Peninsula state he has ruled for decades.
It was not immediately evident what effect Saleh’s absence from Sana would have on a government weakened by protests, resurgent Al Qaeda militants, secessionist rumblings in the south and a rebellion in the north. The president’s departure was characteristic of his seemingly impulsive actions that have long kept his friends and enemies off balance.
“I will leave for treatment in the United States and I will return to Sana as head of the General People's Congress party,” Saleh was quoted by the state news agency as telling party officials in the capital. “I ask for pardon from all Yemeni men and women for any shortcoming that occurred during my 33-year rule and I ask forgiveness and offer my apologies.”
The State Department said Sunday that Saleh's request to travel to the United States for medical treatment had been approved.
"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," a State Department spokesman said.
Saleh, who was severely wounded in a bomb attack on his compound in June, flew to Oman on his way to the U.S. The trip came one day after parliament granted him immunity from prosecution. The president left behind a family he has kept at the center of power, including his son, Ahmed, and nephews and a brother who oversee military and intelligence agencies.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo, Zaid al-Alayaa in Sana and Lisa Mascaro in Washington
Photo: Protesters in Sana react to the departure from Yemen Sunday of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is en route to the United States for medical treatment. Credit: Hani Mohammed / Associated Press