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Car bomb kills 25 after Yemen presidential inauguration


This news story was published on February 26, 2012.
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By Jeffrey Fleishman and Zaid Al-Alayaa, Los Angeles Times –

SANA, Yemen — The inauguration of Yemen’s president was barely over Saturday when a car bomb exploded at a presidential palace, killing at least 25 people and highlighting the dangers the new leader faces in trying to bring stability to the long-troubled Arabian Peninsula.

The brazen attack was a taunting welcome to President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who was sworn in to end the 33-year despotic rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The country’s rising chaos took another twist when Saleh, who had been undergoing medical treatment in the U.S., returned home before Hadi addressed the nation. Saleh’s reappearance and the palace bloodshed indicated that the tribal and political unrest that has gripped Yemen for more than a year will probably not be calmed by the election of a new president.

Shortly after Hadi vowed in his televised speech to the parliament to defeat an emboldened al-Qaida network, a suicide bomber raced toward a palace in the southern town of Mukalla, more than 300 miles west of the capital, Sana, where Hadi was inaugurated. No one claimed immediate responsibility for the blast, but a security official said it bore the imprints of al-Qaida.

Witnesses said a car bomb exploded outside the palace gates as members in the Republican Guard were gathering for lunch. Most of the dead and the 45 wounded were soldiers. The strike, reportedly carried out by a militant who escaped from prison last year, was the latest in a string of assaults by al-Qaida, which has exploited the country’s instability by seizing territory and towns in the south.

“One of the most prominent tasks is the continuation of war against al-Qaida as a religious and national duty,” Hadi told lawmakers.

Sana has been a Washington ally against terrorism. But despite U.S. drone attacks that have killed al-Qaida operatives, including American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, Yemen has failed to rout Islamic militants from tribal lands and rugged mountain redoubts.

“There are sides that don’t want to see political advances in Yemen,” said Ali Said Hassan, a political analyst and head of Political Development Forum. “This incident is a response to President Hadi’s speech in which he promised to fight against al-Qaida. … Al-Qaida wants to say that we are still here in Yemen and we are strong.”

Hadi also faces a rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, a fractious military, tribal animosities and economic problems that have made Yemen the Arab world’s poorest nation. Hadi, who was vice president under Saleh, won Tuesday’s uncontested presidential election after an internationally backed agreement to nudge Saleh aside after months of deadly antigovernment protests.

Many wonder whether Saleh, the fourth Arab leader to be forced from power over the last year, will reassert himself into Yemeni politics. Recovering from an attack on his compound in June that left him badly burned, Saleh remains a clever manipulator of the country’s dysfunction. He has many loyalists, and his son and nephews control the country’s military and security agencies.

Hadi has been in the ruling elite for years. He is accustomed to Saleh’s whims and al-Qaida’s incursions. In his address to the parliament, he appeared to understand the peril he faces.

“Expected changes don’t come by mere wishes and hopes but through democratic dialogue, and through a serious and correct approach to the key issues that racked the country,” he said.

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