Last updated: 22 February, 2012

Partial figures put Yemen poll turnout at 60%

Yemen on Wednesday announced a high turnout in a landmark vote that ended Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule and named a new president, despite boycott calls in the south, where violence marred polling.

Turnout in Tuesday’s vote for Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the only candidate on the ballot, reached 60 percent nationwide, an electoral official said.

The replacement of President Saleh marks the first case of a transition through political settlement in the revolts that have rocked the Arab world since January 2011.

But in southern Yemen, 10 people were killed in clashes between separatist militants and police, and turnout was far lower there on Tuesday.

In the main southern city of Aden, 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, while in other southern provinces, turnout was less than 40 percent, said the official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

There was no polling at all in southern towns controlled by Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Activists from the Southern Movement argued that the election failed to meet their aspirations for autonomy or secession for their formerly independent region and called for a boycott.

Members of the movement’s hardline pro-independence wing called for a day of “civil disobedience” and actively tried to prevent the show of support for Hadi, himself a southerner, from taking place.

In Aden, they seized control of half of the polling stations and attacked a number of others, clashing with police and security forces in the process.

At least 10 people were killed in Aden and other southern cities, including a 10-year-old child who died near a polling station attacked by separatists, medics and security officials said.

Dozens of others were wounded.

In the far north, Shiite rebels also boycotted the vote. A turnout of only 50 percent was recorded in the rebel stronghold of Saada, the electoral official said, adding that voter participation was even lower in other rebel-controlled towns.

In the capital Sanaa, participation averaged 60 percent, although the highest turnout was recorded in Taiz and Ebb, two cities that hosted some of the largest demonstrations of the 10-month uprising against Saleh’s rule.

The two cities also suffered some of the deadliest reprisals from loyalist forces during the revolt that led to the Gulf-sponsored transition agreement that paved the way for Tuesday’s election.

The deal, which Saleh signed in November after months of procrastination, gave him a controversial promise of immunity from prosecution and stipulated that Hadi lead Yemen for two years until presidential and parliamentary elections.

Saleh is to return home for Hadi’s inauguration, a spokesman for his General People’s Congress (GPC) party said.

The outgoing president has been receiving treatment in the United States for blast wounds he suffered in a bomb attack on his Sanaa compound last June.

“President Saleh is on his way back but I cannot give an exact date for his arrival in Sanaa,” said Abdo Janadi, GPC spokesman who is also deputy information minister.

“There will be a grand celebration to inaugurate Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and he will be handed over the presidential palace,” Janadi added.

Political sources in Sanaa said the inauguration was likely to take place next Monday or Tuesday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that Saleh was in California and would enjoy diplomatic immunity until Hadi was inaugurated.

The protests against Saleh triggered massive unrest that left hundreds dead and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country further into the economic abyss.

Food and fuel prices have soared, and international aid organisations have warned of widespread hunger if urgent humanitarian action is not taken.

More than 12 million people were eligible to vote in Tuesday’s election. Poll officials have said that the final result is expected within the next two days.

According to election officials, around half of the ballots had been counted by mid-day.

But polling station staff were refusing to send voting boxes to Sanaa for the count until they received payment, threatening to hold up the final results.