Yemen's Southern Movement kicked-off Sunday a meeting calling for independence for the south from the central government in Sanaa, but the conference was boycotted by a leading separatist leader.
Yemen's prominent separatist leader, Ali Salem al-Baid, a former vice president who lives in exile, boycotted the conference, saying it was not well prepared.
Baid, who a few days earlier had expressed his intention of not attending the conference, and his supporters represent a hardline faction of the movement.
Southern leader Hassan Baoum launched the three-day conference in front of thousands of people in Martyrs' Square in Aden's city centre Sunday, an AFP correspondent reported.
Baoum, in a speech to cheering crowd, declared that Yemen's southerners reject the "occupation of the north" and that the conference would focus on outlining the parameters of a "peaceful struggle" for independence in the south, which was an independent state until it merged with the north in 1990.
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Baoum made no mention of the national dialogue, a critical phase in Yemen's transition process where all parties, including the opposition, the separatists, the youth and the northern rebels are expected to come together and agree on a new constitution and on next presidential and parliamentary elections.
He said the uprising that forced the ouster of long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh had given hope to the southerners -- who have long claimed marginalisation by the north -- that their calls for equality, and in some cases independence, would be recognised.
But those "hopes were dashed," he said, referring to sporadic clashes with troops and increasing unrest in southern towns that have fought for the region's rights.
Southern separatists tried to regain their independence in 1994, but their efforts were brutally crushed by northern troops who eventually overran the south.
On September 13, Baid told AFP that he had decided to return to Yemen after 18-years in exile.
He fled after northern troops took over Aden after the failed 1994 uprising against Sanaa.
Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, himself a southerner, has called on exiled Yemeni opposition figures, including leaders from the southern separatist movement, to return home to participate in the transition process.