SANAA - Yemen's outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Monday for a high turnout in a vote to elect his successor after a year of unrest as a southern-led boycott campaign turned deadly. The future president and sole candidate in Tuesday's poll, meanwhile, pledged to southern separatists and northern rebels that he will address their concerns, as fears mounted over boycotts and escalating vote-related violence. "I invite you to actively participate in this democratic event and to head to ballot boxes to vote for (Vice President) Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi" as future president, Saleh said in a speech addressed to Yemenis, published by the state Saba news agency.
"I invite you all to... overcome the past and move forward in rebuilding what the disastrous crisis exploited by backward and terrorist elements has caused," said Saleh, who is receiving medical treatment in New York for bomb blast wounds sustained in an attack on his Sanaa palace last June.
Both the separatist Southern Movement and northern Shiite rebels are boycotting the vote, which comes a year after the launch of an anti-Saleh uprising during which security forces killed hundreds of people.
Attacks on polling stations and clashes between troops and anti-election protesters in southern Yemen have raised fears that polling day could be marred by violence.
Hadi in a televised speech late on Sunday said "dialogue and only dialogue" can resolve Yemen's long-standing conflicts.
"The southern issue and its implications, and what happened, and what is still happening in Saada (the rebel stronghold in the north), must be given priority... and must be addressed with an open heart and without prejudice," he said.
Interior Minister Abdelqader Qahtan also tried to reassure voters.
"We have taken preventive measures to deal with groups that want to block people from carrying out their electoral duty," he told reporters, urging a vote "for the security and stability of Yemen."
Poll-related violence on Monday left one soldier dead and another wounded as troops clashed with separatists at a checkpoint in southern Yemen's Daleh province, a military official told AFP.
Seven armed protesters chanting "revolution in the south" were wounded in the exchange of fire, a Southern Movement member told AFP.
Troop reinforcements and dozens of armoured vehicles arrived in the southern port city of Aden late Sunday, security officials said.
The deployment came as militants in the southeast province of Shabwa seized a polling station, triggering clashes with security forces who fired tear gas and live ammunition to force their retreat, witnesses and activists said.
No serious injuries were reported.
Earlier, troops and separatists exchanged fire in Aden's Mansura neighbourhood, a stronghold of the movement, where a mass protest against the poll was expected later on Monday.
A security official said police on Sunday and Monday carried out "arrest raids on armed hardliners" from the Southern Movement trying "by force to prevent citizens from participating in the elections."
Hadi is the sole candidate in Tuesday's poll, a condition of the Gulf-brokered transition deal signed by Saleh after months of protests and international pressure demanding his ouster.
On Sunday, Hadi who will be president for an interim two years after which presidential elections and parliamentary elections are to be held, promised "radical reforms" and stressed the need to reunify the army.
The military has been divided since last March when some units defected to support the uprising against Saleh's 33-year-rule, while others remained loyal to the veteran leader.
Hadi also pledged to fight Al-Qaeda and its growing influence in the lawless south and eastern provinces where the militants have seized several towns in recent months.
In Zinjibar, provincial capital of Abyan province, two soldiers were killed on Monday in clashes with Al-Qaeda militants, security officials said.
Troops have been battling the self-proclaimed Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) in Zinjibar since last May when the extremists took most of the city.
In the north, Shiite rebels, who have fought six wars with Saleh's regime since 1994, have also boycotted the poll, though they pledged to allow people to vote.
"The polling stations are open and working normally... We are boycotting, we are not preventing" people from voting, Mohammed Abdel Salam, a spokesman for the Huthi rebels, told AFP.
Mohammed Yahya, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, said 103,000 soldiers have been deployed to guard polling stations. More than 12 million Yemenis are eligible to vote.