Half of Aden polling booths seized, Yemeni official says

Separatists who had vowed to mark Tuesday's presidential vote as a day of "civil disobedience" have seized half of the polling booths in Yemen's main southern city Aden, a government official said.

"Half of the polling booths in Aden have been shut down after they were seized by gunmen from the Southern Movement," a local government official told AFP. He said the gunmen had closed 10 out of the city's 20 voting stations.

Just a few hours earlier, officials and medics said four people including a child were killed in clashes in south Yemen between security forces and separatists.

Witnesses confirmed that the voting stations in Aden were stormed and ballot boxes confiscated, and that the security forces deployed to guard the booths, located mainly in the neighborhoods of Mansura, Sheikh Othman, and Mualla, have withdrawn.

Authorities had deployed 103,000 soldiers to guard polling stations, Mohammed Yahya, chairman of the Electoral Commission had told AFP.

But Khaled Haidan, a leading activist from the pro-election youth revolt movement, said "security forces have apparently handed the booths over to Southern Movement militants."

Activists from the Southern Movement, who say the election fails to meet their aspirations for autonomy or southern independence, are boycotting the referendum-like elections in which Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi is the sole consensus candidate.

Some factions of the movement have vowed to prevent the polls from taking place at all.

Residents in the formerly independent southern region complain of discrimination by the Sanaa government in the distribution of resources since the union between north and south in 1990.

The south broke away again in 1994, sparking a brief civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.

Hadi, himself a southerner, will become president for a two-year interim period as stipulated in a Gulf-brokered deal signed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh in November after months of protests against his 33-year iron-fisted rule.

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