Yemeni security check a vehicle in the southern city of Aden
Yemeni security check a vehicle in the southern city of Aden. Yemen's future president has pledged to southern separatists and northern rebels that he will address their concerns, as fears mounted over election boycotts and escalating vote-related violence. © - AFP
Yemeni security check a vehicle in the southern city of Aden
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Acil Tabbara, AFP
Last updated: February 20, 2012

Yemen's Hadi reaches out to separatists and rebels

Yemen's outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Monday for a high turnout in a vote to elect his successor after a year of unrest as a southern-led boycott campaign turned deadly.

The future president and sole candidate in Tuesday's poll, meanwhile, pledged to southern separatists and northern rebels that he will address their concerns, as fears mounted over boycotts and escalating vote-related violence.

"I invite you to actively participate in this democratic event and to head to ballot boxes to vote for (Vice President) Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi," Saleh said in a speech addressed to Yemenis, published by the state Saba news agency.

Saleh, who is receiving medical treatment in New York for wounds suffered in a bomb attack last June, urged all Yemenis to "overcome the past and move forward in rebuilding what the disastrous crisis exploited by backward and terrorist elements has caused."

Both the separatist Southern Movement and northern Shiite rebels are boycotting the vote, which comes a year after the launch of an anti-Saleh uprising during which security forces killed hundreds of people.

Attacks on polling stations and clashes between troops and anti-election protesters in southern Yemen, resulting in two deaths on Monday, have raised fears that polling day could be marred by violence.

Hadi in a televised speech late on Sunday said "dialogue and only dialogue" can resolve Yemen's long-standing conflicts.

"The southern issue and its implications, and what happened, and what is still happening in Saada (the rebel stronghold in the north), must be given priority... and must be addressed with an open heart and without prejudice," he said.

Interior Minister Abdelqader Qahtan also tried to reassure voters.

"We have taken preventive measures to deal with groups that want to block people from carrying out their electoral duty," he told reporters, urging a vote "for the security and stability of Yemen."

Poll-related violence on Monday left one soldier dead and another wounded as troops clashed with separatists at a checkpoint in southern Yemen's Daleh province, a military official told AFP.

Seven armed protesters chanting "revolution in the south" were wounded in the exchange of fire, a Southern Movement member told AFP.

In Seyun, eastern Yemen, a demonstrator was shot dead as soldiers guarding a polling station opened fire on a Southern Movement march, a security source said.

And southern activists said security forces wounded five protesters in a similar clash in Mukalla, also in the east.

With security being tightened for the poll, troop reinforcements and dozens of armoured vehicles arrived in the southern port city of Aden late Sunday, security officials said.

The deployment followed clashes with militants in the southeast province of Shabwa where security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition amid exchanges of gunfire in Aden's Mansura neighbourhood, a stronghold of the Southern Movement.

A security official said police on Sunday and Monday carried out "arrest raids on armed hardliners" from the movement trying "by force to prevent citizens from participating in the elections."

Hadi is the sole candidate in Tuesday's poll, a condition of the Gulf-brokered transition deal signed by Saleh after months of protests and international pressure demanding his ouster.

On Sunday, Hadi, who will be president for an interim two years after which presidential elections and parliamentary elections are to be held, promised "radical reforms" and stressed the need to reunify the army.

The military has been divided since last March when some units defected to support the uprising against Saleh's 33-year-rule, while others remained loyal to the veteran leader.

Hadi also pledged to fight Al-Qaeda and its growing influence in the lawless south and eastern provinces where the militants have seized several towns in recent months.

In Zinjibar, provincial capital of Abyan, two soldiers were killed on Monday in clashes with Al-Qaeda, security officials said.

In the north, Shiite rebels, who have fought six wars with Saleh's regime since 1994, have also boycotted the poll, though they pledged the vote.

"The polling stations are open and working normally... We are boycotting, we are not preventing" people from voting, Mohammed Abdel Salam, a spokesman for the Huthi rebels, told AFP.

Mohammed Yahya, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, said 103,000 soldiers have been deployed to guard polling stations. More than 12 million Yemenis are eligible to vote.

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