Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh backed his successor Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi and said that the fight against al-Qaeda should continue.
“I hand over the banner of revolution... to safe hands,” said Saleh, the fourth veteran Arab leader to fall in just over a year, standing beside Hadi.
Saleh urged friends and brothers to back efforts to rebuild the country after the destruction that was caused by the uprising that led to his ouster. Saleh spoke in Sana’a during the ceremony of handing in the power to his successor.
Yemen’s new president will serve for an interim two-year period as stipulated by a Gulf-brokered power transition plan signed by Saleh last November.
Hadi, meanwhile, cautioned that the past year of political turmoil that has crippled the economy and unleashed nationwide insecurity was not over yet, and appealed to Yemenis to “cooperate with the new leadership” to help the country emerge from the crisis.
He said he hoped that at the end of his two years in office, Yemen could have a peaceful transition of power.
“I hope we will meet in this room again... to bid farewell and welcome a new leadership,” Hadi said. “I hope that in two years, I will stand in President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s place and a new president will stand in mine.”
Hadi took the oath of office in front of Yemen’s parliament on Saturday, and in his first speech as new leader, vowed to fight against al-Qaeda and restore security across his impoverished nation.
“It is a patriotic and religious duty to continue the battle against al-Qaeda,” he said. “If we don’t restore security, the only outcome will be chaos.”
Hadi was elected in a Feb. 21 presidential poll in which he received 99.8 percent of the votes cast in an election that saw a 60 percent nationwide turnout.
Months of weakened central government control have been exploited by a regional wing of al-Qaeda, which has expanded its foothold in the south of the country near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.
A suicide bombing for which the militant network claimed responsibility killed at least 26 people on Saturday, hours after Hadi was sworn in as president.
“We call on all the sons of the nation to stand together alongside the political leadership ... I call for national solidarity to confront terrorism, principally al-Qaeda,” said Saleh, who returned to Yemen last week from New York.
Saleh has said he will stay on the political scene as leader of his General People’s Congress (GPC) party, casting doubt on his commitment to relinquishing power.
Yemenis gathered outside the new president’s house on Monday demanding Saleh and his relatives be distanced from the military and security services, where they still wield influence.
“We came here to stress that the revolution is ongoing and to demand its second goal be achieved, namely the restructuring of the armed forces and the distancing of Saleh and his relatives from leadership of military and security units,” said Adel Abdullah, one of the protest organisers.
“We elected Hadi to be president of Yemen, not to be an employee of Saleh.”