ADEN - A man was killed Tuesday when a bomb exploded as he was planting it in a polling booth in Yemen’s southern city of Aden, a security official said, amid rising tension ahead of presidential elections next week. “An unknown man trying to plant an explosive device in a polling booth in the neighbourhood of Crater... was killed when it exploded,” the official said, requesting anonymity. Security forces were swiftly deployed across Crater, especially near election committees’ headquarters, the official told AFP.

“We cannot accuse anyone yet but the extremist factions of the (separatist) Southern Movement led by (Yemen Socialist Party’s former leader) Ali Salem al-Baidh are trying to hamper the elections,” he said.

Further east, anti-election gunmen from the Southern Movement besieged a polling booth in the town of Mayfaa in the southeastern province of Shabwa, local officials there told AFP.

The gunmen demanded that members of the electoral committee, who are supported by armed tribesmen, leave the polling booth, the officials said, adding that negotiations to resolve the situation were continuing Tuesday afternoon.

Activists from the Southern Movement who say the February 21 election fails to meet their aspirations for autonomy or southern independence, have been campaigning for a boycott of the election, while Baidh’s followers openly call for actions to prevent the poll from taking place at all.

The elections are taking place under a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand power to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and his aides.

Activists have posted banners across Aden reading: “To all free southerners: The polls must not take place.”

Late on Monday, members of the Southern Movement erected the flag of the formerly independent South Yemen and tore down Hadi’s pictures in Khor Maksar in Aden, an AFP correspondent reported.

Tensions have been simmering since last week. On Thursday, security forces shot dead two southern activists during a protest in the southern town of Daleh against the presidential election, witnesses and activists said.

The protesters had marched towards the headquarters of the electoral committee in Daleh in an attempt to drive its members out of the city when security forces opened fire.

Residents in the formerly independent southern region complain of discrimination by the Sanaa government in the distribution of resources since the north-south union in 1990.

The south broke away again in 1994, sparking a brief civil war that ended with the region overrun by northern troops.

Hadi, himself a southerner, is the sole consensus candidate in the election to succeed veteran strongman Saleh who is standing down after more than three decades in power following months of deadly protests.

Saleh has been in New York since late last month to receive medical treatment for wounds suffered in a June bombing at the presidential palace in Sanaa.

US officials have said he will not return to Yemen until after the election but state news agency Saba reported last week that Saleh had told visitors he would “participate” in the poll.