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Yemeni forces fire into anti-Saleh crowds

Security forces and loyalists of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh shot dead two protesters and injured dozens on Monday as hundreds of thousands turned out to demand his immediate ouster, medics and witnesses said.

“Security forces shot dead a protester and wounded 30 others, eight of them by live rounds,” said a medical source in Ibb, south of Sana’a.

At least 30 others needed treatment for tear gas inhalation, witnesses said.

In the southeastern province of Al-Baida, gunmen “belonging to the ruling party” opened fire at a sit-in, killing one protester, a witness said.

In Taez, south of the capital, police and “gunmen in civilian clothes” fired live bullets and tear gas, wounding 50 protesters and leaving at least 250 suffering from breathing problems, witnesses said.

They said hundreds of thousands of people had gathered in the flashpoint city to pressure Saleh to step down immediately despite a US-backed Gulf plan for a transition of power.

The protesters, who have been demonstrating across Yemen since late January, rallied against a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan under which Saleh would quit in 30 days with immunity from prosecution.

“No rest, no respite for the executioner,” they shouted.

The witnesses said security forces erected concrete barriers to block roads leading to the Taez governor’s office and also deployed armoured vehicles.

In Sana’a, where demonstrators calling for Saleh’s ouster have staged a sit-in at a square since February, thousands of teachers marched on the education ministry.

“No studying, no teaching until the downfall of the president,” they chanted.

Red Sea protests
Witnesses said thousands of people also protested in Mukalla in the southeast and in the Red Sea city of Al-Hudaydah. No clashes were reported in Sana’a or the other two cities.

Al-Hudaydah residents said troops from the Republican Guard, which is headed by Saleh’s son Ahmed, surrounded the local air base of a dissident unit led by General Ahmed al-Sanhani.

Anti-Saleh protests, in which more than 130 people have been killed since January, have led to defections and clashes within the army. But the Republican Guard has remained loyal.

The latest violence came as the United States urged a peaceful transition after Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress said on Saturday it accepted the GCC transition plan drawn up by Yemen’s oil-rich Gulf neighbours.

But Saleh himself told BBC on Sunday that any regime change can only be through “ballot boxes and referendums” and said he could not give in to a “coup”.

‘No negotiations, no dialogue’
Demonstrators on Monday insisted on Saleh’s unconditional departure, carrying banners reading, “No negotiations, no dialogue.”

A leading member of Yemen’s parliamentary opposition which met on Monday, expressed the opposition’s distrust of Saleh.

“The president has the first and last say. We have become used to him saying one thing and its opposite both at the same time,” Sultan al-Atwan said.

“The Common Forum will give its response on the Gulf initiative by Tuesday, and will demand clarifications” on several points, said Atwan.

However, the opposition rejects “linking a cessation of protests to the agreement” on transferring Saleh’s powers to his vice president under the Gulf proposal.

“The protesters are practising a constitutional right, and nobody can take this right from them,” said Atwan.

On Monday, protesters also waved Bahraini flags in solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators who were targeted in a bloody crackdown by security forces, backed by Gulf troops, in mid-March. — AFP

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