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Yemen votes to remove Saleh, elect Hadi

SANAA, Yemen, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Yemenis went to the polls Tuesday to elect a new president: current Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, the only candidate on the ballot.

Hadi will succeed Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose ouster was part of a Gulf States-backed agreement.

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Turnout in Sanaa was reported high, with Saleh supporters voting because they say the out-going president was a force behind the transition and the pro-democracy opposition wants to formally drive Saleh from office, The New York Times reported.

"We want change. We want a new president," shopkeeper Yahya al-Qadhi told the Times. "It's fine that only Abed Rabbo is on the ballot. If there was more than one candidate, then they would start killing each other and we are sick of the killing."

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Saleh said his goodbyes to his countrymen in a written statement read on Yemen state television.

"I say farewell to the authority," Saleh said. "I remain with you a citizen loyal to his homeland, his people and his nation as you have known me through thick and thin. … I will perform my duty and my role in serving the country and its just causes."

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One issue facing the new regime is the need to restore the ability to fight terrorism, several people told the Times.

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A Yemeni official speaking on the condition of anonymity said the United States will play a key role in the restructuring of the armed forces after Hadi becomes president. John Brennan, President Obama's chief counter-terrorism adviser, said U.S. officials will visit Yemen to focus on several issues, including military restructuring.

"There needs to be a national army and national military that is going to fight against al-Qaida," Brennan said.

Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and other militant groups have used the political upheaval to establish a base in the southern part of the country and develop an alliance with elements of the militant al-Shabaab in Somalia, The Washington Post reported.

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"We are looking at their needs," Brennan said of Yemen's military, such as logistical support to "give them the ability to move forces to areas where al-Qaida now has a strong foothold."

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