Rally for independent South Yemen turns violent

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Yemeni protestors take part in a demonstration in Aden, southern Yemen, calling for their independence from Sanaa on March 18, 2013.

ADEN - Thousands of separatists took to the streets Saturday on the anniversary of the 1967 independence of former South Yemen, but deadly gunfire among the activists marred the rally.

The demonstrators came from across the south and gathered on Parade Square in the centre of Aden, waving flags of the former South Yemen and carrying banners bearing pro-independence slogans.

Security forces watched the crowds from a distance and deployed around public buildings and police and army posts, but did not intervene during the rally.

However, gunfire erupted during a scuffle between rival groups of southern activists, killing one person and wounding another three, an activist said.

A medical source confirmed the toll.

Some protesters chanted slogans denouncing Yemen&39;s national dialogue, talks aimed at drawing up a new constitution and preparing for elections, and which have faltered partly because of the southern issue.

Secessionists at the rally chanted "No to dialogue, yes to independence and liberation," and "Our demand is independence", responding to calls from hardliners in the Southern Movement.

Majed al-Shuwaibi, a member of the Movement at the rally, said the choice of date was significant.

"The southerners are celebrating the anniversary of the October revolution... which will continue for the re-establishment of the state," he said.

Hassan Baoum, head of the Southern Movement&39;s supreme council, arrived from neighbouring Hadramawt province on Friday evening to attend the rally, activists said.

In a press release, he said the "people of the South... have no choice for recovering their freedom and dignity except by liberation and independence".

After the former North and South Yemen united in 1990, the south broke away in 1994, triggering a brief civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.

The southern question is still contentious and has been a stumbling block for the national dialogue, in which moderate members of the Southern Movement have been demanding greater autonomy.

The talks, which opened in March and were originally due to close on September 18, accepted the principle of a federal state, but President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and northern delegates suggested it should comprise several entities.

Southern secessionists are demanding a federal state made up of a north and south only.

In a statement released at the end of the rally, organisers announced their "total rejection of the national dialogue" and warned the international community against "imposing a partial solution that would not address the aspirations of the people of the South for independence".

The talks are part of a transitional process stipulated by a UN-backed initiative, brokered by neighbouring Gulf countries, which ended a year of Arab Spring-inspired protests and eased former autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February 2012, after 33 years in power.

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