Yemen's foreign minister says next month's planned election to replace embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh may be delayed because of security problems in the country.
In an interview broadcast Tuesday on al-Arabiya television, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said it will be "difficult" hold the election on February 21 if Yemen does not resolve its security issues.
Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida took control of the central west Yemeni town of Radda on Sunday. They also control parts of southern Yemen's Abyan province.
Saleh's critics have accused him of allowing Islamist militants to seize Yemeni towns and cities to bolster his claims that an end to his 33-year rule will lead to chaos. The autocratic Yemeni president has faced a year of mass protests by opposition activists demanding his ouster.
He agreed last November to a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan for him to hand power to his deputy and step down after a February election, but he has remained in his post and continued to make official pronouncements.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Saleh has failed to comply with commitments to leave Yemen and permit an election process to unfold. Speaking on a visit to Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, she said the United States will keep working with its partners to ensure that al-Qaida militants in Yemen do not gain a foothold in the region.
Under the GCC plan, Saleh was supposed to transfer his powers to Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is the consensus candidate of major parties in the upcoming presidential election.
Yemen's interim government approved a draft law earlier this month granting Saleh immunity from "legal and judicial prosecution" for any alleged crimes committed during his rule. Pro-democracy activists have criticized the transition deal, saying they want Saleh and his powerful relatives to stand trial for a government crackdown on protests in which hundreds of people have been killed.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.