Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is heading to the United States for medical treatment after asking his people to forgive him for any "shortcomings" during his 33-year rule.
Saleh departed the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, Sunday on a jet for the Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman, where he is expected to stay for a short time before traveling on to New York.
A U.S. State Department release Sunday noted that Saleh's request to travel to the United States had been approved for the sole purpose of medical treatment, and that his stay will be for a limited time.
In a televised farewell speech just hours before he left, the Yemeni leader asked his people to forgive him for mistakes made during his autocratic rule. He also vowed to return to Yemen and continue leading his ruling (General People's Congress) party.
Saleh was severely wounded in a bomb attack on his presidential compound last June and spent several months recuperating in Saudi Arabia. He has spoken previously of a desire to seek further treatment in the United States.
Yemeni opposition activists have staged a year of mass protests demanding his immediate ouster, inspired by popular uprisings in other parts of the region.
Thousands of Yemenis rallied in Sana'a on Sunday, calling for Saleh to be put on trial for a violent crackdown in which hundreds of people have been killed.
The anti-Saleh protesters reject granting Saleh full immunity from prosecution. Yemen's parliament approved the immunity Saturday as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council-backed deal to encourage the president to leave office. Saleh signed the plan last November and agreed to transfer presidential powers to his deputy ahead of February elections that will pick his successor.
Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is the consensus candidate of Yemen's ruling party and parliamentary opposition for that election.
In Saleh's meeting with party officials, Yemeni state media said he declared Hadi responsible for the country and promoted the vice president to the military rank of field marshal.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.
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