SANAA (AFP) – Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said he would seek to produce nuclear energy for civilian use in the impoverished Arabian peninsula republic as he registered his candidacy for a new term.
“My future tasks include the huge development file… and that of the energy production required to meet growing needs, including producing electricity through nuclear energy,” Saleh said, quoted by the state Saba news agency Tuesday.
Speaking last month amid the standoff between Iran and the international community over Tehran’s nuclear program, Salah defended “the right of Arab countries to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.
Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, announced on June 24 he had reversed a decision made public in July 2005 not to seek a new presidential term after “an appeal from the masses”.
He was the first to register his candidacy in parliament Tuesday after the week-long registration opened.
Yemen, with a population of some 20 million, is one of the world’s poorest countries. It is a minor producer of oil, pumping around 380,000 barrels per day, but with a declining output because its reserves are depleting, according to officials.
Seven opposition parties have joined to nominate a rival to Saleh, picking Islamist-leaning former oil minister Faisal bin Shamlan as their presidential candidate.
The exact date of the election has not been announced, but it is expected to take place in the second part of September.
Saleh’s reelection is seen as a foregone conclusion.
The 64-year-old field marshal has been at Yemen’s helm for nearly three decades, first as president of the then North Yemen and later as head of the unified state after the May 1990 merger between north and south.
Saleh said that if reelected, he would focus on combating poverty and unemployment, as well as fighting terrorism and Islamist extremism.
Yemen has cracked down on Al-Qaeda suspects with US help since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
On Tuesday Saleh also singled out “advocates of the imamate who occasionally make their voices heard in (the northwestern province of) Saada and who have supporters in the capitals of some other provinces”.
It was his first public acknowledgment that a rebellion by members of the minority Zaidi community had extended outside Saada, where attacks on government forces have killed hundreds in the past two years.
Saleh has accused Zaidi rebels of seeking to overthrow his regime.
The rebels reject as illegitimate the republican regime which seized power in a 1962 coup known as the September 26 revolution, overthrowing the Zaidi imamate.
Twenty hopefuls turned up to register their candidacies for the presidential election on Tuesday, parliamentary sources said.
But a commission charged with handling candidacies accepted only seven of them as the others did not meet the legal requirements.
One woman, journalist and comedian Dhikra Ahmad Ali, was among those whose candidacies were accepted.
For a candidate to stand in the election, he or she must also be endorsed by five percent of the members of the elected parliament and the appointed Majlis ash-Shura (Consultative Council) during a joint session to be held on July 26.