Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country's ruler for more than 30 years, has left for the U.S., to get medical treatment. The target of an assassination attempt last year, Saleh has not spent much time in Yemen in the past year. He was seriously wounded in the attack and spent time recovering in Saudi Arabia.
Street protests in Sanaa, the capital, and other cities have been quite large and vocal in the past six months, calling for Saleh to end his authoritarian regime and leave the government. Saleh has agreed to relinquish power several times but has not followed through on that promise. In November, he signed a power-transfer agreement that meant the vice-president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was in charge. Many observers say, however, that Saleh is still the power behind the scenes.
The power transfer agreement guaranteed that Saleh would not face prosecution if accused of any human rights violations or other illegal activities while he was leader of the country. His initial response to the large street protests was to order a violent crackdown, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200 protesters. Despite the deal, protesters have continued to speak out in the streets.
A government official said that Saleh would head to New York and then return to Yemen at the end of February. Presidential elections, in which Hadi will be the only candidate, are scheduled for Feb. 21.