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Yemen National Day Quietly Marked After Tragic Bombing

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YEMEN NATIONAL DAY
Forensic policemen collect evidence at the site of a suicide bomb attack at a parade square in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed) | AP
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SANAA, Yemen — Grieving Yemenis held somber ceremonies Tuesday to mark the country's National Day following a suicide bombing a day earlier that killed nearly 100 soldiers and deeply shook the faith of many people in the nation's future.

Months of mass protests pushed longtime authoritarian ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh from power early this year, fueling hopes that the Arab world's poorest country could finally get on track. But Monday's blast during a rehearsal for a military parade that left scenes of carnage in the capital made clear to many in Yemen just how daunting the challenges facing the country are.

"No holidays, no revolutions and no state. Nothing. Everything is over," said teacher Assiya Thabit at Sanaa's Change Square, which was the heart of the anti-Saleh uprising. "We are following in the footsteps of Somalia and Afghanistan."

Deeply shocked by the bloodshed, some Yemenis lashed out at Saleh, suspecting that his associates had a hand in the violence.

"Saleh has destroyed everything in our souls and minds," said Ahmed Rakin, a 25-year-old protester. "What happened is the price the nation pays for Saleh's ceding power."

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has been in a behind-the-scenes power struggle with Saleh since taking over from him in February as part of a U.S.-backed power transfer deal, led a symbolic parade held inside Sanaa's Aviation Academy Tuesday for National Day, which marks the 1990 reunification of north and south Yemen.

Sitting behind a bulletproof glass shield, Hadi was joined by top military commanders, government officials and foreign diplomats.

Security concerns were paramount, and the parade that was originally planned for a major square in central Sanaa was scaled back and moved to the academy after Monday's attack, when a Yemeni soldier detonated a bomb hidden in his uniform during a rehearsal for a military parade.

Ninety-six soldiers were killed and at least 200 wounded in what was one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in years.

Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen claimed responsibility for the blast, saying in an emailed statement it was intended to avenge a U.S.-backed offensive against al-Qaida 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 back down in the face of such attacks.

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

Al-Ashwal was the only official to speak at the short ceremony. The parade was cut from three hours to one, 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 Saleh, who held power for nearly three decades before his ouster this year.

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.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, was the site of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors. There have also been a spate of assaults on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, including a 2008 bombing that killed 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians.

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