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Saleh hands over power

Yemen inaugurated Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi as president on Monday, officially ending Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year reign. “I now hand over the flag of the revolution, the republic, freedom, security to safe hands,” said Saleh as he handed the Yemeni flag to Hadi in a symbolic gesture during the ceremony. Hadi was sworn into office on Saturday, after he received 99.8 per cent of the vote in last week’s presidential election, in which he was the sole candidate.

“We are laying a new base for a peaceful transfer of power in Yemen,” said Hadi during the ceremony in the presidential complex in the capital Sana’a. The biggest challenge facing Hadi will be to re-establish security. Militant groups with possible links to al-Qaeda are believed to have extended control of areas in southern Yemen, taking advantage of a weak central government and a year of protests against Saleh.

Violence has gripped Yemen since January 2011, when thousands of people, inspired by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets to demand Saleh’s ouster. Hadi, who served as Saleh’s deputy for some 17 years, said that Yemen now faced a complicated and difficult path, and called on all parties to cooperate with the new leadership.

According to the Gulf-brokered power transfer deal, which Saleh signed in November, Hadi and a national unity government will lead the country for two years. “I hope we will gather again in this hall to say farewell to an old leadership and welcome a new one,” Hadi said, standing next to Saleh. Around 30,000 people took to the streets in Sana’a and the southwestern city of Ibb to protest against Saleh’s presence at the ceremony.

Saleh on Friday returned from the United States where he received medical treatment. “We will continue to support the president to rebuild what the crisis has destroyed,” said Saleh, who retains his post as the head of his General People’s Congress party. “We call on all fellow countrymen to stand beside the political leadership.” The opposition Joint Meeting Parties coalition boycotted the ceremony because of Saleh’s presence. Saleh had agreed to relinquish power to Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The sole candidate in Yemen’s presidential election on Tuesday, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, received 99.8 percent of the valid votes cast, the country’s electoral commission announced on Friday. According to the final results, 6,635,192 voters from an eligible electorate of 10,243,364 cast their ballots — a turnout of 66 percent — the commission said.

Hadi, who will take the oath before parliament on Saturday and be formally invested as president on Monday, succeeds Ali Abdullah Saleh under a transition deal brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. Hadi “will take the oath of office in parliament on Saturday, February 25, and the inauguration will follow on Monday, February 27, in a ceremony at the presidential palace during which Ali Abdullah Saleh will officially hand over power to him,” a statement from the commission said.

The handover will put the seal on a hard-won November transfer of power deal, under which Saleh agreed to step down in return for a controversial promise of immunity from prosecution over the deaths of hundreds of people during 10 months of protests against his 33-year rule. Saleh has been receiving treatment in the United States for blast wounds he suffered in a bombing at the presidential palace last June but is to fly home for the handover, Deputy Information Minister Abdo Janadi said on Wednesday.

The United States on Sunday approved a visit from Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for medical treatment but said it was with the understanding that he would stay only for a “limited time.” Saleh, who sustained serious injuries in a bomb attack at his presidential palace last June, left Yemen earlier on Sunday for neighboring Oman, where he was expected to spend a few days before traveling on to New York.

His departure came a day after parliament adopted a law giving him “complete” immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down under a transition deal brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. “Ali Abdullah Saleh’s request to travel to the US for medical treatment has been approved,” the US State Department said. “As we have indicated, the sole purpose of this travel is for medical treatment and we expect that he will stay for a limited time that corresponds to the duration of this treatment.”

In a televised farewell speech delivered just hours before he left, Saleh said he was heading to the United States for medical treatment and asked Yemenis for forgiveness for shortcomings during his 33-year-long rule. His trip to the United States could open Washington to charges of harboring a brutal ruler responsible for the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators.

Analysts said last month that Saleh would face stringent conditions in return for admission to a New York hospital, possibly including a ban on media interviews to deprive him of a political platform. Critics want Saleh to be brought to justice for offenses they say include the brutal suppression of a year-long uprising that left hundreds dead.

The 69-year-old was badly injured in an attack on his presidential palace in June after which he spent several months in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Parliament on Saturday also adopted a law approving Saleh’s long-time deputy, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, as the consensus candidate in the February 21 election to succeed him.

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