After bombing, somber Yemen marks National Day

After bombing, somber Yemen marks National Day

A police academy cadet looks on as he stands at attention ahead of a parade marking the 22nd anniversary of Yemen's reunification in Sanaa on May 22, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

May 22, 2012, Tuesday/ 14:52:00

Yemeni leaders led a somber ceremony Tuesday to mark the country's national day, scaling back the celebrations a day after a suicide bombing killed nearly 100 soldiers during a rehearsal for a military parade.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, along with top military commanders, government officials and foreign diplomats, took part in a small, symbolic parade held inside Sanaa's Aviation Academy. Hadi sat behind a bulletproof glass shield with his armored car parked nearby.

Security concerns were paramount at the ceremony following Monday's suicide attack, when a Yemeni soldier detonated a bomb hidden in his uniform during a rehearsal for a military parade for National Day, which marks the 1990 reunification of north and south Yemen. Ninety-six soldiers were killed and at least 200 wounded in what was one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in years.

Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying in an emailed statement that the suicide attack was intended to avenge a US-backed offensive against al-Qaeda in a swath of southern Yemen seized by the militant movement last year.

Addressing the crowd Tuesday, the chief of staff of the Yemeni military, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Ali al-Ashwal, vowed the nation would not be deterred by such attacks.

"We will not let terrorism destroy our future and dreams," he said.

Al-Ashwal was the only official to speak at the ceremony, which was drastically scaled back because of security concerns. The parade was cut from three hours to one hour, a fly-over by fighter jets was canceled and only cadets from the police and aviation academies participated in the program.

Despite their grief, Yemenis for the first time marked the National Day without their longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, who held power for nearly 30 years. Saleh was forced to step down after a yearlong uprising where hundreds of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets demanding his ouster.

Monday's bombing deeply shocked Yemenis, and left a scene of carnage on a square in central Sanaa. Scores of bleeding soldiers sprawled on the ground as ambulances rushed to the scene. Several severed heads were on the pavement amid large pools of blood and human remains.

Military officials said the bomber belonged to the Central Security, a paramilitary force commanded by Saleh's nephew Yahia Saleh. He detonated his explosives in the midst of the Central Security unit as it received orders to pass in front of the parade view stand where both the defense minister and the military chief of staff were sitting.

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