(Updates with U.S. approval of Saleh visit in third paragraph.)
Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Yemen’s outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for medical treatment in the U.S. after he was granted immunity from prosecution following the deaths of hundreds of protesters over the past year, an aide said.
Saleh said today in a speech he will return to attend the inauguration of his successor following presidential elections on Feb. 21, the state news agency Saba reported. The president will make stops in Oman and Ethiopia before flying to the U.S., according to Abdulhafiz al-Nehari, a spokesman for Saleh’s General People’s Congress party.
Saleh’s request to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment has been approved, the State Department said in an e-mailed statement.
“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,” said the statement, which referred further questions about Saleh’s travel plans to the Yemeni government.
Saleh described parliament’s decision yesterday to pass an immunity statute for him and his aides, along with the endorsement of Vice President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi as the sole presidential candidate, as a “good achievement,” Saba said.
Saleh Steps Down
A new Yemeni government was sworn in last month after Saleh signed an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council to relinquish presidential powers in return for immunity. Saleh urged all political parties today to embrace reconciliation and work together to repair damage caused during the unrest, the agency reported.
The president apologized for all wrongdoings or mistakes, saying any errors during his period of office were unintentional. “I appeal to my people, men and women, to forgive my mistakes during the 33 years of my reign,” the agency reported. “I beg your pardon and I apologize to all Yemeni citizens.”
Tens of thousands of Yemenis rallied today in several cities, including the capital Sana’a and Taiz, to protest the immunity law, saying Saleh and his aides are responsible for at least 1,100 deaths over the past year.
‘A Crime and a Betrayal’
“This is a crime and a betrayal of the blood of our brothers,” Mohammed Hussami, a protester in Sana’a, said in an interview.
Saleh first agreed to step down amid street protests in November after returning from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for wounds he sustained during an assassination attempt in June.
About 103,000 soldiers and officers will provide security for the presidential vote, with at least two soldiers in charge of protecting each ballot box, Yemen’s election commission said Jan. 19.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, with backing from the U.S., have sought to resolve the Yemeni conflict. Saudi Arabia shares a border with Yemen and has been targeted in the past by Yemen-based militants from al Qaeda, as well as getting drawn into tribal conflicts.
The unrest has cost Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, more than $8 billion, Industry and Trade Minister Hisham Sharaf said Nov. 13. Attacks against the country’s pipeline network have disrupted exports and caused nationwide shortages.
--With assistance from Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv. Editors: Francis Harris, Ann Hughey.
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