ADEN // A top leader in Yemen's separatist Southern Movement urged southerners yesterday to avoid secessionist slogans and to throw in their lot with anti-regime protests raging across the country.
The Southern Movement's number two, Abdullah al Nakhbi, called on supporters to "join the youths' revolt" against the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and to "avoid using slogans calling for the secession" of Yemen's formerly independent south.
"Our first and last aim is to overthrow Saleh's regime," said Mr al Nakhbi, who is standing in for the movement's detained leader, Hassan Baoum.
"We have yet to free Yemen's north and south from this tyrant, and then we can look into the southerners' cause," Mr Nakhbi told AFP.
"Whoever calls for secession now serves Ali Abdullah Saleh."
Protests against Mr Saleh's 32-year rule began in January and have gained momentum. But the president has vowed he will not step down before the end of his term in 2013.
At least 19 people, mostly in the main southern city of Aden, have been killed in protests and clashes across Yemen since February 16, according to an AFP tally based on reports by medics and witnesses.
Rights group Amnesty International puts the toll at 27.
The Southern Movement wants either secession or increased autonomy for the formerly independent region, where residents complain of discrimination by the Sanaa government in the distribution of resources.
The south and the north were united in 1990 but the south broke away again in 1994, sparking a brief civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.