Ali Abdullah Saleh - AP - 27/2/2012
Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, right, handing over power to the country's newly-elected President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen, Fe Photo by AP
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Yemen's new president took over on Monday from Ali Abdullah Saleh, his predecessor of 33 years, saying the impoverished Arab state faced a "complex and difficult phase" after a year of violent political turmoil over Saleh's fate.

Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office after elections last week in which he was the sole candidate to replace Saleh, the target of mass protests that came to be matched by open warfare among rival wings of Yemen's military and tribal militias.

"We stand before a complex and difficult phase," Hadi said at his inauguration, standing beside Saleh, who later handed him the Yemeni flag.

"The Yemeni people who turned out in their millions for early elections have sent a clear message of their desire for security and stability and change for the better. Today...we receive a new leadership and we bid farewell to a leadership," he added.

The U.S.-backed power transfer plan was hammered out by Yemen's wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors, eager to anti-Saleh protests that paralysed the country for most of 2011.

Opposition parties that hold half the seats in a government intended to see the country through the writing of a new constitution before parliamentary elections in 2014 boycotted the ceremony, in part over Saleh's presence, party figures said.

Those parties have been criticized by protest leaders for taking part in a deal that leaves Saleh's relatives in positions of strong influence, as well as for signing on to a law granting Saleh and his aides immunity from prosecution.

Hadi vowed to see the transition through and stand aside, saying: "In two years I hope to be standing where Ali Abdullah Saleh is now, with a new president will be standing where I am."

Months of weakened central government control have been exploited by a regional wing of al-Qaida, which has expanded its foothold in the south of the country near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.

A suicide bombing for which the militant network claimed responsibility killed at least 26 people on Saturday, hours after Hadi was sworn in as president.

"We call on all the sons of the nation to stand together alongside the political leadership ... I call for national solidarity to confront terrorism, principally al-Qaida," said Saleh, who returned to Yemen last week from the United States.

Saleh has said he will stay on the political scene as leader of his General People's Congress (GPC) party, casting doubt on his commitment to relinquishing power.

Yemenis gathered outside the new president's house on Monday demanding Saleh and his relatives be distanced from the military and security services, where they lead key units.

"We came here to stress that the revolution is ongoing and to demand its second goal be achieved, namely the restructuring of the armed forces and the distancing of Saleh and his relatives from leadership of military and security units," said Adel Abdullah, one of the protest organizers.

"We elected Abd-Rabbu (Hadi) to be president of Yemen, not to be an employee of Saleh."