SANAA (Reuters) – Two Yemenis died and hundreds were hurt yesterday when police used live rounds, tear gas and batons to try to break up protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who called for an end to weeks of unrest.
The two dead were among around 10 people hit by bullets in the violence in Taiz, south of the capital, doctors said, adding that dozens were wounded, and that they treated hundreds suffering from tear gas inhalation.
The provincial governor of Taiz later denied anyone was killed and said eight soldiers were among the injured, state media said.
“Armoured vehicles and tanks are surrounding us. They have spent three hours firing tear gas and bullets (in the air) in an effort to break up the protest,” said activist Bushra al-Maqtari.
Protests inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia have brought Saleh’s rule to the verge of collapse. But the president, a perennial survivor, called yesterday for an end to the violence, signalling he has no intention of resigning soon.
“We call on the opposition coalition to end the crisis by ending sit-ins, blocking roads and assassinations, and they should end the state of rebellion in some military units,” Saleh told visiting supporters from Taiz province.
“We are ready to discuss transferring power, but in a peaceful and constitutional framework,” he added to chants of “No concessions after today!”
His ruling party also said it had not received a proposed transition plan from opposition parties that envisages Saleh handing power to a vice president while steps are taken towards creating a national unity government and calling new elections. “We haven‘t got it yet,” an official said.
The United States has talked openly of its concern about who might succeed Saleh, a man it views as an ally who has helped to contain al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based wing of the militant group.
Opposition groups stepp-ed up action against Saleh in the port city of Aden, seat of a separatist movement by southerners who say the 1994 unification of South Yemen with Saleh’s north has left them marginalised.
Much of the city was deserted in a second day of civil disobedience as businesses stopped work. Opposition groups have also called on people to stop paying taxes and utility bills.
Thousands have camped out around Sanaa University since early February, but in the past two weeks Saleh has begun mobilising thousands of his own supporters on the streets.
On Saturday, seven protesters were wounded in the western port of Hudaida when riot police used batons and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
One soldier was killed and three were wounded in a clash on Sunday with armed men at a checkpoint in Milah in Lahej province in the south, an official said, blaming southern separatists.
A police colonel and two companions were wounded when men opened fire on their convoy in southern Dalea province, another official said.
He did not say who he believed was responsible.
Saleh, in power for 32 years, has said that he would be prepared to step down within a year after parliamentary and presidential elections and that an abrupt exit would cause chaos.
On Saturday, he thanked thousands of supporters gathered near the presidential palace for backing the constitution.
Under the opposition plan, the army and security forces would be restructured by a vice-president acting as temporary president, the opposition coalition said on Saturday.
Wide discussions could then be held on constitutional changes, a unity government and new elections.
Talks have been off and on over the past two weeks, sometimes in the presence of the US ambassador.
Sources say Saleh wants to ensure he and his family do not face prosecution over corruption claims that the opposition has talked about