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Obama welcomes transfer of power by Yemen's Saleh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the United States welcomed the signing by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh of an accord under which he immediately transferred power to the country's vice president.

"This represents an important step forward for the Yemeni people, who deserve the opportunity to determine their own future," Obama said in a statement.

Under the agreement, signed with the Yemeni opposition at a ceremony hosted by Saudi King Abdullah in the capital Riyadh, Saleh transferred his powers to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, ahead of an early election. In return he will receive immunity from prosecution.

"For ten months, the Yemeni people have courageously and steadfastly voiced their demands for change in cities across Yemen in the face of violence and extreme hardship," the president said.

Hundreds were killed during protests to overthrow Saleh that erupted amid the Arab Spring that saw the collapse of regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, amid fear Yemen's al Qaeda wing may exploit the ensuing instability and take deeper root.

"The United States urges all parties to move immediately to implement the terms of the agreement, which will allow Yemen to begin addressing an array of formidable challenges and chart a more secure and prosperous path for the future,' Obama said.

(Reporting by Alister Bull; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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