SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) – Separatist violence in the south loomed over a presidential election in Yemen that had just a single candidate, but Washington praised the vote ending three decades of rule by its ally Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The uncontested vote anointed Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi – a general who served as Saleh’s vice president and close confidant – as president under a deal backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf Arab states.
Hadi is tasked with implementing a power-sharing deal with Saleh’s political opponents under the agreement, which removed Saleh after 33 years in power in one of the Arab world’s poorest and most chaotic countries.
A year-long uprising against Saleh was one of the bloodiest of the revolts that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East. Saleh becomes the fourth Arab autocrat toppled in the wave of unrest that began in Tunisia more than a year ago.
He leaves behind an economy in shambles, a rebellion in the north, separatism in the south, a tenacious wing of al Qaeda, and a divided military still partly dominated by his kin.
In a reminder of the daunting task his successor faces holding Yemen together, violence was reported in cities across the south, where separatists demanded an election boycott.
At least nine people were reported killed and voting was cut short. Separatists stormed polling stations and security forces fired on protesters.
“Elections are the only exit route from the crisis which has buffeted Yemen for the past year,” Hadi said after voting yesterday.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “We consider it to be a very strong and positive referendum by the Yemeni people on the transition process that their leaders have agreed to.”
Washington says it wants a united Yemeni leadership as a partner in its campaign against al Qaeda. Yemen is one of the countries that allow US forces to use drone aircraft to strike al Qaeda militants.
The poll was denounced in advance by some of the youth activists who first took to the streets to demand Saleh’s ouster. 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.
Minibuses plastered with posters of Hadi and decked out with speakers sped around the capital Sanaa blaring out songs to shouts of “Vote to Save Yemen.”