The Yemeni president appealed to southern leaders Thursday to join talks on the country's political future as separatist sentiment surges after a UN-backed dialogue wrapped up without them in January.
In a speech marking the 24th anniversary of the formerly independent south's union with the north, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi told southern leaders they could still be part of a political settlement.
"We call on those who did not participate in the national dialogue to join the comprehensive national process that excludes no one. The door is still open," Hadi said.
His speech came just a day after thousands took to the streets of the main southern city Aden demanding renewed independence on the 20th anniversary of the proclamation of a short-lived breakaway state that was crushed by northern troops.
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Southern self-rule activists boycotted the national dialogue that concluded with a plan to divide Yemen into six federal regions, four of them in the north.
Even the moderate wing of the Southern Movement which is open to autonomy for the south, instead of independence, rejected the plan.
Wednesday's protesters brandished photographs of exiled former South Yemen president Ali Salem al-Baid, a hardliner who champions secession.
Political sources said that Hadi, who is himself of southern origin, was reaching out to to more moderate exiled leaders, including another former president Ali Nasser Mohammed, and former prime minister Haidar al-Attas.
A southern activist said both men were considering returning to Yemen soon to enter talks.