SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- A member of the Yemeni al-Harak secessionist movement won applause at a landmark national dialogue on Tuesday by declaring that the south has the right to independence.
He spoke at the conference that aims to map out the future of the impoverished Arab nation. Its northern-based government has faced criticism from southerners, who charge that it has failed to govern properly, particularly in the past two years of political upheaval.
The south and north were united in 1990, and power shifted to the north in the capital Sanaa. Four years later, an attempt by the south to regain independence was crushed in a civil war.
The conference hall erupted in applause when Khaled Bamdahef said the people of southern Yemen want the choice of independence.
He said the people of the south look forward to the conference "to be given the right to self-determination and to reclaim their independent civil state through all peaceful means" guaranteed in international charters.
One proposal backed by Yemen's president is to decentralize rule in the country by dividing it into six regions, each with considerable autonomy, under a federal system, high-ranking government officials say.
The dialogue, which brings together politicians, religious figures and social groups from across Yemen's political spectrum, is a key step in a power transfer plan for the conflict-torn nation at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. The plan was brokered by neighboring Gulf nations and backed by the United States.
In early 2012, the deal was key to ending the 33-year rule of autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh. It followed nearly a yearlong uprising against him in which millions of Yemenis rallied in the streets and staged sit-ins in city squares. It opened the way for his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to take power.
Some key members of the al-Harak secessionist movement boycotted the conference, while those who attended gave no indication that they would be willing to give up their dream of independence.
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