By Acil Tabbara / AFP
SANAA: Yemeni electoral officials on Wednesday hailed a high turnout in a landmark vote that ended President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule, despite boycott calls in the south where violence marred polling.
Turnout in Tuesday’s vote for Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the only candidate on the ballot, reached 60 percent nationwide, an electoral official said.
But in the south, where 10 people were killed in clashes between separatist militants and police, turnout was far lower.
In the main southern city of Aden, 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, while in other southern provinces, turnout was less than 40 percent, said the official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
There was no polling at all in southern towns controlled by Al-Qaeda linked militants.
Activists from the Southern Movement argued that the election failed to meet their aspirations for autonomy or secession for their formerly
independent region and called for a boycott.
Members of the movement’s hardline pro-independence wing called for a day of “civil disobedience” and actively tried to prevent polling from taking place.
In Aden, they seized control of half of the polling stations and attacked a number of others, clashing with police and security forces in the process.
At least 10 people were killed in Aden and other southern cities, including a 10-year-old child who died near a polling station which came under attack by separatist militants, medics and security officials said.
Dozens of others were wounded.
In the far north, Shia rebels also boycotted the vote. A turnout of only 50 percent was recorded in the rebel stronghold of Saada, the electoral official said, adding that voter participation was even lower in other rebel-controlled towns.
In the capital Sanaa, participation averaged 60 percent, although the highest turnout was recorded in Taiz and Ebb, two cities that hosted some of the largest demonstrations of the 10-month uprising against Saleh’s rule that led to the Gulf-sponsored transition agreement which paved the way for Tuesday’s election.
The two cities also suffered some of the deadliest reprisals from loyalist forces.
The deal which Saleh signed in November gave him a controversial promise of immunity from prosecution and stipulated that Hadi lead Yemen for a two-year transition period, after which a contested presidential election will be held along with parliamentary elections.
Saleh is to return home for Hadi’s inauguration, a spokesman for his General People’s Congress party said.
The outgoing president has been receiving treatment in the United States for blast wounds he suffered in a bomb attack on his Sanaa compound last June.
“President Saleh is on his way back but I cannot give an exact date for his arrival in Sanaa,” said Abdo Janadi, who is also deputy information minister.
“There will be a grand celebration to inaugurate Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and he will be handed over the presidential palace,” Janadi added.
Political sources in Sanaa said the inauguration is likely to take place next Monday or Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had strongly urged Saleh to stay away from his homeland until after Tuesday’s election, described the vote as “another important step forward in their democratic transition process.”
She pledged that Washington would “continue to support (Yemen’s)… urgent economic, social and humanitarian challenges.”
US aid to Yemen under Saleh, once a key ally in Washington’s worldwide campaign against Al-Qaeda, slowed after protests against his rule erupted in January last year, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
The protests triggered massive unrest that left hundreds dead and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country further into the economic abyss.
Food and fuel prices have soared, and international aid organizations have warned of widespread hunger if urgent humanitarian action is not taken.
More than 12 million people were eligible to vote in Tuesday’s election. Poll officials have said that the final result is expected within the next two days.