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Yemeni soldier dies in pre-election clash

SANAA, Yemen, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Violence escalated Monday on the eve of Yemen's uncontested presidential election, with the death of a soldier in a clash with separatists, officials said.

A military official and a member of the separatist Southern Movement said the confrontation at a checkpoint in Daleh province also left another soldier and seven protesters wounded, Middle East Online reported.

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Vice President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi is the only candidate in Tuesday's election.

Officials from the Southern Movement and northern Shiite rebels said the organizations would boycott the presidential vote, several media outlets reported. Reasons were not given.

The Interior Ministry called for a gun-free election, warning that any person found carrying a weapon on Election Day would be arrested, Yemen's news agency Saba reported.

A security official said police on Sunday and Monday conducted "arrest raids on armed hardliners" from the Southern Movement who he said were trying "by force to prevent citizens from participating in the elections," Middle East Online reported.

Hadi became the consensus candidate per a Gulf States-backed initiative signed in November in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by representatives of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the pro-democracy opposition. Among other things, the agreement called for Saleh to be removed from office.

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Saleh, driven from power by a yearlong protest and pressure from his former allies, will return to Sanaa Wednesday to attend Hadi's swearing-in ceremony, The Yemen Post reported. He sustained severe burns during a bombing of his palace mosque last summer and has spent time recovering in Riyadh and the United States.

Hadi will be president for two years, when presidential and parliamentary elections will be conducted.

In a televised speech Sunday, he said "dialogue and only dialogue" could resolve longstanding conflicts in the north and south.

An election official said a large turnout was expected because Yemenis realize "this time their votes are going to count," the Post reported. The official said many people didn't participate previously because they thought their vote wouldn't make a difference.

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