Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down after 33 years at the helm on Tuesday at a ceremony at the presidential palace in Sanaa, formally handing power to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
“I hand over the banner of the revolution, of the republic, of freedom, of security and of stability… to safe hands,” said Saleh, the fourth veteran Arab leader to fall in just over a year, as he stood beside Hadi.
Yemen’s new president will serve for an interim two-year period as stipulated by a Gulf-brokered power transition plan signed by Saleh last November.
The former president said that he would “stand… by my brother the president of the republic” and called on Yemenis to “rally” behind the new leader in his fight against “terrorism, first and foremost, Al-Qaeda.”
“There is no place for terrorism,” he said.
President Hadi, meanwhile, cautioned that the past year of political turmoil that has crippled the economy and unleashed nationwide insecurity was not over yet, and appealed to Yemenis to “cooperate with the new leadership” to help the country emerge from the crisis.
He said he hoped that at the end of his two years in office, Yemen could have a peaceful transition of power.
“I hope we will meet in this room again… to bid farewell and welcome a new leadership,” said Hadi. “I hope that in two years, I will stand in President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s place and a new president will stand in mine.”
Saleh is the fourth Arab leader to fall since the beginning of the Arab Spring revolutions that forced the resignation of veteran leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, and led to the gruesome death of Libya’s long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Hadi took the oath of office in Yemen’s parliament on Saturday, and in his first speech as the new leader he vowed to fight against Al-Qaeda and restore security across his impoverished nation.
“It is a patriotic and religious duty to continue the battle against Al-Qaeda,” he said. “If we don’t restore security, the only outcome will be chaos.”
His taking the oath was overshadowed by a suicide bomb attack outside a presidential palace in the country’s southeastern Hadramawt province, killing 26 elite troops, in an attack military officials said bore the hallmark of Al-Qaeda.
Yemen’s local Al-Qaeda branch, the self-proclaimed Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), has exploited the decline in central government control that accompanied anti-Saleh protests that began last January and eventually forced him to cede power.
During the unrest, the militants seized large swathes of southern and eastern Yemen.
Hadi was elected in a February 21 presidential poll in which he received 99.8 percent of the votes cast in an election that saw a 60 percent nationwide turnout.