Yemen protests swell on "Friday of no return"

Fri Mar 11, 2011 3:55pm GMT

By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - Fighting broke out between small groups of government supporters and protesters on Friday as record crowds of tens of thousands called for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, dismissing his offer of reforms.

Yemenis flooded streets and alleys around Sanaa University in the biggest protest to hit the capital since demonstrations began in January. About 30 people have been killed since then.

Outside the university dozens of people from both camps hurled rocks at each other as residents fired shots in the air to try and break up fighting. Protesters nearby told Reuters about ten people were being treated for minor injuries.

Several thousand Saleh loyalists also crammed Sanaa's Tahrir Square, touting pictures of the veteran leader.

"Your duty is to guard stability, I know many of you are suffering economic hardship, but we Muslims are different. Income comes from God and prayer," a preacher told them.

But loyalist numbers were dwarfed by the anti-government crowd, which Reuters reporters put at more than 40,000. Tens of thousands of protesters also marched in Taiz and Ibb, south of the capital.

In the southern port city of Aden, three people were wounded by gunfire and six were overcome by tear gas as police tried to disperse thousands of anti-government marchers. Elsewhere in the south, gunmen killed four soldiers on patrol in the city of Hajarain, officials said, blaming al Qaeda.

A wave of unrest, inspired partly by popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, has weakened Saleh's 32-year grip on his impoverished nation, a neighbour of oil giant Saudi Arabia and home to an agile and ambitious regional al Qaeda wing.   Continued...

<p>Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a demonstration to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of al-Habileen March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer</p>
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.