Gunmen attack polling stations in south Yemen

Feb 20, 2012, 9:24 PM

Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Gunmen attacked three polling stations in Yemen’s restive south, officials said, a day before the country is to go to the polls to rubber stamp its vice president as the new head of state after 33 years of one-man rule.

A total of four people were reported killed in clashes across the country. The violence underlines the security vacuum in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country after a one-year popular uprising seeking to oust longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Under a U.S.-backed deal brokered by Yemen’s Gulf Arab neighbors, Saleh’s deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is to become president after a vote Tuesday in which he is the only candidate.

Posters and huge banners brandishing Hadi’s photo and urging Yemenis to cast ballots have appeared throughout the capital Sanaa as voting day approaches. Thousands of people attended an electoral rally early Monday in support of the vice president.

Hadi, a low-profile figure who served under Saleh for years, did not attend the event and has rarely addressed the public. Still, many Yemenis who originally opposed the deal that will bring Hadi to power now support the move merely because it will officially end Saleh’s 33-year rule.

Security has collapsed across Yemen during the uprising, with security forces regularly using lethal force against protesters and clashing with various armed groups. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have struggled to ensure a smooth transition in hopes that Yemen will continue to cooperate in fighting the country’s al-Qaida branch, which has carried out attacks in the U.S.

Two Yemeni soldiers were killed in a gunfight with al-Qaida militants near the city of Zinjibar, security officials said. Militants seized control of the town last year, exploiting the country’s unrest.

In the central town of Daleh, one soldier was killed in a shootout with gunmen associated with a group calling for independence for Yemen’s south.

In another incident, a member of a separatist group was shot and killed by police in a town in the southern province of Hadramout during an alleged attempt to storm a polling station there.

Officials said the attacks were related to the elections, but Nasser Baqizqooz of the separatist Southern Movement said by phone that while his group is boycotting the vote, it rejects the use of violence to prevent the election.

In the port city of Aden, gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a polling station, then fled. No one was hurt, and police are searching for suspects.

And in the southern province of Shabwa, armed men raided a polling station in the town of Ataq, expelling the election workers and occupying the building, officials said.

The attacks appeared unrelated, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity under security protocols.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Gunmen attack polling stations in south Yemen