Violence mars Yemen's one-candidate presidential election

Violence mars Yemen's one-candidate presidential election

At least four people were killed in clashes in southern Yemen on Tuesday as voters flocked to polling stations in a presidential election aimed at ending the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, dpa reported.

Security forces clashed with tribesmen who were trying to prevent people from voting and were attacking polling stations.

Saleh's deputy, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, 67, is the sole candidate.

The early election is the result of a deal, for the peaceful transfer of power, signed in November by Saleh, 69, and the opposition.

After casting his ballot, Hadi told reporters that the election reflected the wisdom of Yemenis emerging from the year-long unrest, the state-run SABA news agency reported.

The United Nations special envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar all concerned parties in the country to abide by the Gulf-brokered power transfer deal.

"The international community and the United Nations Security Council would closely monitor this process," he told a press conference in the capital Sana'a.

In the southern port city of Aden, voters in al-Mansoura district could not reach a polling station as supporters of the separatist Southern Movement shuttered it and exchanged fire with security forces, a security source in Aden told dpa.

Videos posted online by pro-democracy activists showed members of the separatist movement storming a polling station and setting ballot boxes on fire.

Along with Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, in the north, the Southern Movement has for months called for the election to be boycotted.

In the southern city of al-Makala, at least 16 people were injured in clashes between security forces and people opposed to the election.

Hadi, who is from the south, has promised to hold a national dialogue with the separatists.

Political analyst Ahmed al-Zarqa described the elections as a "play set up to satisfy Saleh's ego."

He added: "This scenario, which is neither an election nor a referendum, was made because Saleh wanted to leave power through the so-called constitutional legitimacy. The deal has turned the revolution into a mere political crisis."

The Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum said Tuesday that polling was halted in nine constituencies in several cities controlled by al-Qaeda-linked militants in the provinces of Dali, Lahj and Abyan.

Information Minister Ali al-Amrani said the election was the start of a new path for Yemen and that the turnout was high, the state-run SABA news agency reported.

Tawakkul Karman, the women's rights and democracy activist who was co-laureate of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, posted a picture of herself online after casting her ballot, showing her inked thumb.

"Congratulations to Yemen, congratulations on the first stage of victory for the revolution. We will continue to win and achieve all our goals," Karman posted on Twitter.

Voting was peaceful in the capital Sana'a, as voters queued in front of polling stations. Several groups that were active in the uprising against Saleh had called on people to vote in the election.

Many were posing for photographs outside the booths, their fingers coloured with deep blue ink once their ballots were cast.

"I am extremely happy to participate in this historic day in which I will free myself from the rule of Saleh for the first time in my life," said Abdullah al-Hammadi, 27, from Sana'a.

"Now is the time for us to make trustworthy men responsible for the state affairs," he added.

According to the deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh agreed to relinquish power to Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The agreement followed months of violence as Saleh's regime cracked down on demonstrators calling for his ouster.

Yemen has more than 10 million registered voters, in a population of 24.7 million, according to the latest census.

Polling stations in 301 constituencies were scheduled to be closed at 6 pm (1500 GMT). However, the vote was extended for two hours in some stations that witnessed high turnout, the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum said.

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