Yemenis begin to vote in presidential elections

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, February 21, 2012
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Yemenis headed for the polling stations Tuesday morning to vote for a successor to President Ali Abdullah Saleh with the aim of pulling the impoverished country back from possible civil war.

More than 10 million eligible voters are expected to cast their ballots in about 29,000 polling stations across Yemen from 8:00 (0500 GMT) to 18:00 (1500 GMT), with over 10,000 soldiers guarding the process, as a string of attacks against the election committees flared in the country's restive southern regions.

Under a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal signed by Saleh and the opposition in November 2011 in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, the outgoing president will hand over power to his deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the only consensus candidate in Tuesday's polls, in return for immunity from prosecution.

On the eve of the presidential polls, explosions against polling stations and fierce clashes between security forces and anti-government militants were seen in the county's southern regions, leaving at least two soldiers killed and more than 10 others injured and raising fears that Tuesday's voting would be marred by violence.

Yemen's new president will lead a transitional government with an interim two-year period, which is tasked with amending the Constitution and holding parliamentary elections, according to the Gulf-brokered deal.

During a speech on Sunday, Hadi vowed to revive the country's shattered economy and intensify the fight against al-Qaida networks in Yemen.

He also promised to launch national dialogue involving all political factions in the Arab country to settle the political crisis that has dragged it to the edge of civil war.

However, the northern Shiite al-Houthi rebels and the pro-separatism Southern Movement, the two major opposition groups, have publicly denounced the legitimacy of Hadi and the transitional government and called on voters to boycott the elections.

Meanwhile, militants of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have taken advantage of the one-year unrest to bolster their presence in the country's southern regions, including cities across the Abyan and Shabwa provinces they seized late in May.

The terrorist group claimed responsibility for assassinating several senior Yemeni intelligence officers last month in a statement on Monday night, defying the Yemeni authorities in the southern provinces.

The ongoing fighting with al-Qaida militants, which shows the country's fragile security situation during the early presidential elections, would be a major security challenge for the new administration.

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