SANAA // Only hours after Yemen's new president was sworn in yesterday, vowing to continue the fight against Al Qaeda, the militant group claimed responsibility for a car bomb in the country's south that killed at least 25 people.
Dozens more were injured when the pickup truck, driven by a suicide bomber, exploded at the entrance of the presidential compound in Mukalla.
Abdrabu Mansur Hadi earlier took the oath of office in the capital, Sanaa, following a single-candidate presidential election last week. Mr Hadi, the deputy to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, swore to continue the war against Al Qaeda-linked militants who used the uprising to seize control of several parts of the country.
"One of the most prominent tasks is the continuation of war against Al Qaeda as a religious and national duty, and to bring back displaced people to their villages and towns," Mr Hadi said.
Many of those killed in yesterday's bombing were members of the Republican Guard, which is under the command of Mr Saleh's son, Ahmed, and played a key role in the former leader's crackdown on the uprising against his rule.
"Al Qaeda is responsible for the suicide bombing in Mukalla in retaliation for the Republican Guard's crimes," an Al Qaeda source told Reuters.
Hours before the ceremony, Mr Saleh returned to Yemen following a four-week medical visit to the United States. While he did not attend the ceremony, reports that he plans to speak at Mr Hadi's formal inauguration tomorrow has raised concern about his political plans. Mr Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, agreed to step down in return for immunity as part of a deal reached by the Gulf Cooperation Council. In a presidential decree last November, he transferred his authority to Mr Hadi but it did not put an end to his interference in the country's political affairs.
Aides to Mr Hadi said this week that Mr Hadi complained several times to Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen, that he would not be able to act as president with Mr Saleh's continuous involvement.
The aide to Mr Hadi said Mr Saleh had interfered in almost every political decision taken since November.
"It was difficult for Saleh to step aside and he could not understand that his era came to an end. Mr Hadi cannot take sides in a nation that is on the brink of collapse, and new strategies need to be taken to ensure the success of the transitional period," the aide said.
The aide said Mr Saleh was often angry with Mr Hadi, not understanding that he no longer had political authority.
"The past three months have been hard for President Hadi and that is why he remained silent. Mr Hadi was avoiding any chances of verbal clashes with Saleh," the aide said.
Another aide to Mr Hadi said that Mr Saleh wrote to Mr Hadi numerous times, asking him to distribute weapons to supporters of the ruling family.
Mr Saleh's family still controls nearly 80 per cent of the country's security forces. In addition to Ahmed, who heads the 130,000 members of the Republican Guard, Mr Saleh's brother commands the air force, while his nephews are leaders in the central security, national security, and special forces.
"As long as security forces are in the hands of Saleh's family nothing has changed. The military needs immediate reforms if Yemen is to see light," said Ahmed Bahri, one of the leaders in the opposition Haq party. "The biggest obstacle President Hadi will face is Saleh and his family. They will not accept to be weakened," he said.
Mr Hadi is expected to see through the implementation of the power transfer deal. This includes overhauling the security forces, overseeing the selection of a committee to write the country's new constitution, and preparing for an election in two years.
But the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) party said the role of Mr Saleh, the party's leader, would continue.
"President Saleh is still the president of the GPC and will lead the party to the future. Nothing can stop Saleh from running again for presidency," said Abdu Al Ganadi, a senior Saleh aide and spokesman for the National Alliance, a group of political parties allied with the GPC.
"In the next elections, the best man will win," said Mr Al Ganadi.
Youth activists greeted Mr Saleh's arrival yesterday with large protests and chants vowing to have him prosecuted. The protests hit the streets of seven provinces, with activists raising banners portraying Mr Saleh with a butcher knife covered with blood.
"The people have not forgiven him for his crimes and killings. We are happy he is back to Yemen. This will help us seek justice and he will follow the same steps as Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak," said Basheer Al Maktari, a protester in Sanaa.
Activists said they would hold daily protests in front of Mr Saleh's home.
"Saleh has to understand it's over for him. He was lucky to be granted immunity and he should choose to retire and hold on to it," said Mohammed Abulahoum, president of the opposition Justice and Building party.
"Hadi is capable to rebuild the country, but the question is, will he be given that chance?" Mr Abulahoum said.
With additional reporting from Reuters, Associated Press and Agence-France Presse