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Yemen's Saleh leaves for US, says he'll be back

President Ali Abdullah Saleh left Yemen Sunday talking of both handing over power and returning before presidential elections next month.

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Protesters rally to celebrate the departure of Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Sunday.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

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Yemen's president left his battered nation on Sunday, his spokesman said, after delivering a farewell speech in which he asked for forgiveness and said it was time to hand over power.

But in a sign that Ali Abdullah Saleh's role as a power broker in Yemeni affairs may be far from over, he said he would seek medical care in the United States, then return to Yemen before presidential elections next month to head his ruling party.

Despite signing a deal last year to pass powers to his vice president, Saleh has continued to exercise authority behind the scenes, sparking accusations he sought to cling to power. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has taken advantage of Yemen's political instability to enlarge its foothold in the Arab world's poorest nation.

Presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Soufi told The Associated Press that Saleh left Yemen's capital Sanaa late Sunday on a jet headed for the Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman. He did not say how long Saleh intended to remain in Oman, but added that he would make "another stop before heading to the United States of America."

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