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Yemen has new leader but lots of old problems

SANA, Yemen - Yemen’s first new president in more than three decades was sworn in yesterday, taking over a country with a broken economy, crumbling infrastructure, violent separatist movements, an active Al Qaeda franchise, and Islamist militants in control of large swaths of territory.

After a year of antigovernment protests and rising insecurity in a country the United States sees as a critical ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, Yemenis were hopeful that the new government led by Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi, the former vice president, represented a fresh start.

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But as if to underscore the problems Hadi faces, hours after he took the oath of office in Parliament and promised to continue the war on Al Qaeda, militants responded with a double car bombing in the southeastern port city of Mukalla, killing at least 20 government soldiers.

The swearing-in ceremony, in a room packed with Parliament members, foreign diplomats, and journalists, was strikingly cheerful. Members of the former ruling party and the opposition, who fought bitterly over the past year, greeted one another with smiles, handshakes, and kisses on the cheek.

When Hadi entered, the room burst into applause.

“I know that there are complex and interlocking crises: economic, social, and security,’’ he said after taking the oath. He urged officials from both sides to work together to uphold “principles of good governance and to build a strong state through establishing institutions that are not based on a single personality.’’

He called the fight against Al Qaeda, which is a top priority for the United States, “a national and religious duty.’’

Hadi, 65, who was chosen as a consensus candidate by the former ruling party and the opposition, was confirmed in a one-candidate election on Tuesday. The election was part of a US-backed agreement to remove President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for 33 years, from office.

Despite the lack of choice, the election drew a large turnout, said by the government to be 65 percent, suggesting that after more than a year of protests in which hundreds were killed, Yemenis were eager to embrace change.

“We consider this a historic day for Yemen,’’ said Ali al-Mamari, a legislator who quit Saleh’s party last spring after government supporters used violence against peaceful antigovernment protesters. “All year there was a revolution, but now a new revolution started that is without weapons, without conflict, to transform our country into a civil state. I am incredibly happy. Months ago, I did not expect to be happy like this.’’

The new unity government, composed of members of Saleh’s party and the opposition, is to begin a national dialogue on a new constitution.

If that effort is to succeed, the government will need to find a way to bring in the separatists in the south and the Houthi rebels who control Saada Province in the north.

The south has been marginalized by the Saleh government since north and south Yemen unified in 1990, and many southerners hate the government. Although Hadi is from the southern province of Abyan, he fled to Sana, the capital, in the 1980s and is seen as a traitor by many in the south.

Last spring, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group called Ansar al-Sharia seized large swaths of territory in the south as government forces fled, either defecting or joining the fight against armed opposition fighters in Sana.

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