(Reuters) - Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed Saturday to step down in weeks in return for immunity from prosecution, becoming the third veteran Arab leader this year to be toppled by a wave of public revolts.
Here are some facts about Yemen’s long-serving leader:
— Saleh, in power for more than three decades, uses internal conflicts with Houthi Shi’ite rebels in the north, Marxist rebels in the south and al-Qaeda operatives to the east to draw in foreign aid and military support and solidify his power base. Al Qaeda has already used Yemen to attempt attacks in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the past two years.
— Saleh presided over the unification of North Yemen and South Yemen in 1990 and has been fighting to prevent Yemen sliding into becoming a failed state.
— He was elected president by parliament in October 1994, and first directly elected president in September 1999, winning 96.3 percent of the vote. Most recently, he was re-elected in September 2006 to a seven-year term.
— A string of Saleh’s allies have defected to the protesters, who are frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment. Some 40 percent of the population live on $2 a day or less, and one third face chronic hunger.
— Born in March 1942 into a tribe living near Sanaa, he received only limited education before taking up a military career, beginning in 1958 as a non-commissioned officer.
— His first break came when North Yemen President Ahmed al-Ghashmi, who came from the same Hashed tribe as Saleh, appointed him military governor of Taiz, North Yemen’s second city. When Ghashmi was killed by a bomb in 1978, Saleh replaced him as leader of the North.
— However, the severity of his rule aggravated tension with the South, and sporadic clashes escalated into open conflict between the two states in 1979. The brief war went badly for Saleh.
— However Saleh was seen as a survivor. He crushed an attempt to overthrow him only months after he took power in North Yemen, and swept to victory when southerners tried to secede from united Yemen in 1994.
— Saleh has made many verbal concessions during the recent protests, promising last month to step down in 2013 without bequeathing power to his son and offering a new constitution giving more powers to parliament. But until now he had rejected opposition plans for a quicker transition.