SANAA - Yemen’s veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he will head to the United States for medical treatment as he asked his people for forgiveness in a farewell speech released as he left Sanaa Sunday.
“I will go to the United States for treatment and will then return as head of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party,” the official Saba news agency quoted Saleh as saying. “I ask for forgiveness from all my people, men and women, for any shortcomings during my 33-year-long rule,” he added.
An official close to the presidency told AFP that “the Yemeni president left Sanaa,” without specifying Saleh’s destination. 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 immunity law has drawn wide condemnation from young protesters, hundreds of whom have been 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. But Saleh’s 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 as he called for ‘reconciliation’ in the country. “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,” Saleh said.
Parliament on Saturday also adopted a law approving Saleh’s long-time deputy, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, as the consensus candidate in the election for Saleh’s successor, due to be held on February 21.
After that date, Hadi is to be “handed over the presidential palace while Ali Abdullah Saleh will take his bag, bid farewell, and leave to his own home,” Saba 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.
A senior official of Saleh’s GPC party, Sultan al-Barakani, said last week that the 69-year-old president, who remains in office on an honorary basis, 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 he sustained in a bombing at the presidential palace last June, the official told AFP. “Once he has completed his treatment in New York, he will return to Yemen to continue leading the party.”
Diplomats in Sanaa said on Sunday that Saleh’s eldest son Ahmed - who commands the feared Republican Guard - was ‘already in Oman’ to prepare for his father’s visit.
‘Sorry’ Saleh says farewell to Yemen