Yemen's President Saleh 'Leaves Country' For Treatment

Yemen's veteran President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has left the country to travel to the US for medical treatment, Yemeni officials have told journalists.

Yemen's President Saleh 'Leaves Country' For Treatment

Yemen's veteran President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has left the country to travel to the US for medical treatment, Yemeni officials have told journalists.

In a televised "farewell speech" he asked for forgiveness for "any shortcomings" during his 33 year rule.

His reported departure came a day after MPs approved a law giving him immunity from prosecution.

The law was part of a deal under which President Saleh would relinquish power and leave Yemen.

The capital Sanaa saw renewed protests on Sunday calling for him to be put on trial.

Demonstrators want Mr Saleh to be brought to justice for offences they say he committed, including the brutal suppression of a year-long uprising that left hundreds dead.

In a separate development, reports said government forces had closed runways at the main airport serving Sanaa, demanding the removal of Air Force commander Maj Gen Mohammed Saleh - the president's half-brother.

Witnesses told Reuters news agency that air traffic was halted, and riot police with water cannon surrounded the protesters.

'Seeking forgiveness'

"God willing, I will leave for treatment in the United States and I will return to Sanaa as head of the General People's Congress party," Ali Abdullah Saleh told party officials, according to the state news agency Saba.

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

One official who was at the early-morning event which brought together senior political, military and security officials, quoted Mr Saleh as saying: "Today, I leave the country in your hands.''

The president's aides told the Associated Press news agency that Mr Saleh also announced the promotion of Vice-President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi - who is set to replace him as president - to the rank of marshal.

Mr Saleh, 69, was badly injured in an attack on his presidential palace in June after which he spent several months in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

'Butcher'

The bill approved on Saturday grants President Saleh full and irrevocable immunity from prosecution for anything he did while in office.

However, Mr Saleh's top officials get limited immunity, and could still be prosecuted for actions deemed to be terrorism, or for corruption.

Angry protesters carried banners on Sunday urging MPs to reverse their decision on Mr Saleh's immunity.

"It is our duty... to execute the butcher", chanted protesters in Change Square - the hub of the democracy movement over the past year, AFP news agency said.

Security forces controlled by the president and his family, as well as armed loyalists, have been accused of killing anti-government protesters.

Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that anyone who committed abuses during the mass protests which erupted a year ago should not be allowed to escape justice.