Thousands waved flags, painted their faces with the colors of the national flag and exchanged congratulations in a capital that had become a battleground in recent days.
“We have deported Ali,” some chanted. “The people have toppled the regime.”
Saleh transferred power temporarily to his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, after boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia late Saturday. He was wounded in a rocket attack on the presidential palace Friday afternoon.
The vice president met Sunday with U.S. Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein, Yemen’s news agency reported. The two discussed steps required to maintain a cease-fire between government forces and tribal militias. They also spoke about Yemen’s the political opposition, known as the Joint Meeting Parties.
Yemeni officials have not called Saleh’s departure an abdication from power, but analysts say the longtime leader, who had been a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, is unlikely to return as president.
Despite the jubilation in Sanaa, bloodshed continued in the southern city of Taiz, where gunmen attacked the presidential palace, killing four soldiers, the Associated Press reported.
Saleh’s sudden departure comes as the country is on the verge of civil war and economic collapse, with a violent power struggle among rival tribesmen underway and no clear plan for a transition of power if Saleh were to permanently surrender office.
For months, Saleh had resisted intense pressure from within Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest nation, and from neighboring countries and the United States to step down. With an active al-Qaeda branch in Yemen — one ambitious enough to claim the mantle of Osama bin Laden in the near future — Saleh’s departure could pose one of the most significant policy challenges for the Obama administration in the months ahead.
A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged late Saturday that the crisis in Yemen was already affecting U.S. efforts to fight terrorism.
“The current protracted political issues are having an adverse impact on the security situation in Yemen,” said Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, and the United States is “continuing to review and assess all aspects of our security assistance.”
But he indicated that Washington was already looking beyond Saleh’s rule. “Our shared interest with the Yemeni government in defeating al-Qaeda goes beyond one person,” Lapan said. The U.S. military has an unspecified number of counterterrorism trainers in Yemen, who the Pentagon has said remain in the country, although the civil unrest had affected their work.