Violence mars Yemen poll, five killed, many hurt
ADEN/SANAA YEMEN ushered Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after 33 years on Tuesday, voting to endorse his deputy as president, with a mission to rescue the nation from poverty, chaos and the brink of civil war.
Vice-President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the sole, consensus candidate, billed the vote as a way to move on after months of protests against Saleh’s rule, but the president’s sons and nephews still command key army units and security agencies.
“Elections are the only exit route from the crisis which has buffeted Yemen for the past year,” Hadi, Saleh’s longtime right-hand and former army general, said after casting his vote.
Five people were killed in violence in Yemen’s south on Tuesday, where a secessionist movement is active, a reminder of the challenges Hadi will face in taming a nation where half of the population of 23 million owns a gun.
The vote will make Saleh, now in the United States for more treatment of burns suffered in an assassination attempt last June, the fourth Arab autocrat in a year to be removed from power after revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
At stake is an economy left in shambles, where 42 percent live on less than $2 per day and runaway inflation is driving up food and fuel prices.
Long queues formed early in the morning outside polling stations in the capital Sanaa amid tight security, after an explosion ripped through a voting centre in the southern port city of Aden on the eve of the vote.
“We are now declaring the end of the Ali Abdullah Saleh era and will build a new Yemen,” Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman said as she waited to cast her ballot outside a university faculty in the capital Sanaa.
Voters dipped their thumbs in ink and stamped their print on a ballot paper bearing a picture of Hadi and a map of Yemen in the colours of the rainbow.
A high turnout was crucial to give Hadi the legitimacy he needs to carry out changes outlined in a US-backed power transfer deal brokered by Yemen’s Gulf neighbours, including the drafting of a new constitution, restructuring of armed forces and multi-party elections.
An official from the election security committee estimated a turnout of 80 percent, although final results will not be known for several days.
The vote was backed by the United States and Yemen’s rich neighbours led by Saudi Arabia, who — alarmed at signs of Al Qaeda exploiting the disorder wracking the country to strengthen its regional foothold — sponsored the power transfer deal.
A pickup truck mounted with anti-aircraft guns and full of soldiers stood by another Sanaa University department as hundreds of men lined up to vote.
The poll was denounced in advance by youth activists who took to the streets to demand Saleh’s removal.
They regard the transfer plan as a pact among an elite they see as partners to the crimes of Saleh’s tenure, including the killings of protesters.