Obama Offers Support for Peaceful Transfer of Power in Yemen
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SANA, Yemen -- President Obama offered support on Sunday for Yemen's vice president, who is expected to soon become president, and said that Yemen could be an example of peaceful political transition for other Arab nations.
The message was conveyed by the American counterterrorism chief, John O. Brennan, who presented a letter from Mr. Obama to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi during a meeting here in the capital, Sana.
"I know you face challenges ahead, but I am optimistic that Yemen can emerge as a model for how peaceful transition in the Middle East can occur when people resist violence and unite under a common cause," the letter said, according to The Associated Press.
Mr. Obama's support for the political transition here came as no surprise. The United States has been working to remove the current president, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, from office since last April.
Mr. Brennan was completing a two-day trip to Yemen, aimed at making sure that the government's cooperation in fighting the regional branch of Al Qaeda will continue under the country's new leadership.
Yemenis will cast votes for a new president in a one-candidate election on Tuesday, the culmination of an American-backed plan to end the 33-year rule of Mr. Saleh, a former American ally who was driven from power by a yearlong protest movement and ultimately by pressure from his former allies.
Mr. Hadi was selected as the consensus candidate for president by Mr. Saleh's governing party and the opposition coalition. His name will be the only one on the ballot.
Yemenis realize that the election is more of a mechanism to remove Mr. Saleh from office than an exercise in democracy. Still, after a year of demonstrations and urban warfare, many Yemenis are desperate for normalcy, and they welcome the vote.
"If all the Yemenis come together to end this crisis, then this is our goal," said Abdel Rahman Ahmed, who works as both an engineer and a taxi driver to make ends meet.
Mr. Saleh is the fourth Arab autocrat to be forced from office by the wave of Arab Spring uprisings over the past year. He agreed in November to step down, but only after presidential elections. He has been in New York since late January, receiving medical treatment for the lingering effects of injuries he sustained in an attack on his palace last June.
Mr. Hadi's image is plastered everywhere in the capital, and new billboards encouraging people to vote tower over roadways, showing bright images of women with ink-stained thumbs showing that they had cast ballots.
"Together we will build a new Yemen," the billboards read.
Yemen's antigovernment protesters, who have been camped out in tattered tents on the streets of major cities here for months, are divided on the election. Some completely reject Mr. Hadi, who was part of the Saleh government. Others, like Hamza al-Kamali, 24, see the election as the "beginning of our revolution."
"Look, Ali Abdullah Saleh must leave," Mr. Kamali said on Sunday, while tapping away on his laptop in a tent in Change Square, the site of Sana's antigovernment sit-in. "When this power is taken from Saleh, he will never be able to get it back."
First Published February 20, 2012 12:01 am