Saleh orders his pictures be replaced by Yemen VP as violence continues

Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who is the country’s acting leader, will be the sole candidate to replace outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the early presidential elections due for Feb. 21. (Reuters)

Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ordered his pictures to be replaced by those of his vice president, who is due to take his place later this month, state news agency Saba reported Wednesday.

Meanwhile, violence continued ahead of the one-man election on Tuesday to endorse the handover of power.

Five people, including an official responsible for Tuesday’s election, were killed when gunmen opened fire on their car in Bayda, southwest of the capital, a local official and security sources said.

And three were wounded in attacks in the south, where factions from the separatist Southern Movement have been calling for preventing the polls from taking place, officials and activists said.

“President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ordered all authorities and institutions” public and private, across the country, “to take down his pictures from public squares, streets, buildings and offices and raise those of Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi,” Saba reported.

Referendum-like elections will be held in Yemen on Tuesday to approve Hadi, the sole candidate, as a consensus president for a two-year term, as per a Gulf-brokered deal which Saleh signed in November after months of pressure.

Under the deal, which came in response to an uprising that began in January 2011, Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for three decades, will hand power to Hadi, a southerner, in return for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

But while most members of the opposition welcome the election, members of the Southern Movement, who say it fails to meet their aspirations for autonomy or southern independence, have been campaigning for a boycott of the poll.

The more extreme factions led by Yemen Socialist Party’s former leader Ali Salem al-Baidh have openly called for preventing the poll from taking place at all.

The people killed in Bayda also included a Republican Guard officer responsible for electoral security, two soldiers and a civilian, the sources said.

One policeman was wounded when a gunman “from the Southern Movement threw a home-made bomb at a polling booth in the town of Huta before fleeing,” a local official told AFP.

This came hours after gunmen from the same movement clashed with policemen guarding the same booth, the official said.

In Daleh province, Southern Movement gunmen from fired on a local government building during the launch of Hadi’s campaign, wounding a passer-by, and on a police vehicle leaving a polling booth, wounding a policeman, an activist said.

A stun bomb also exploded near a polling booth in the main southern city of Aden, a security official said, accusing members of the Southern Movement of planting it.

The attacks come one day after a man was killed when a bomb exploded as he was planting it in a polling booth in Aden, a security official said.

The official had accused members of the separatist movement of being behind the attack. But leading Southern Movement member Qassem Askar denied his group’s involvement in the blast.

He accused “security forces and other parties who are against the peaceful Southern Movement of orchestrating the attack to find an excuse to arrest activists and leaders in the movement and kill protesters” against the polls, in a statement received by AFP.

Saleh has been in New York since late last month to receive medical treatment for wounds suffered in a June bombing at the presidential palace in Sana’a.

U.S. officials have said he will not return to Yemen until after the election, but state news agency Saba reported last week that Saleh had told visitors he would “participate” in the poll.

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