Rebels kill Yemen officer as pro-Saleh protests begin
DUBAI (Reuters) - Rebel fighters killed a Yemeni security officer in the south, state news agency SABA said, as supporters of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh took to the streets of the capital on Friday for the first time since he signed a peace deal last month.
The security officer was buried in the city of Sabr, near the flashpoint cities of Aden and Taiz.
Clashes between security forces, Islamist militants and southern separatists have become common in the area after nearly a year of mass protests calling for the end of Saleh's 33-year rule eroded government control in the south.
Saleh's General People's Congress party announced on Thursday its supporters would return to demonstrating in the capital Sanaa. They had ended protests in accordance with a Gulf-brokered peace initiative meant to pull Yemen back from the brink of civil war.
Pro-Saleh protesters gathered near the presidential palace in the capital, waving Yemeni flags and photographs of the outgoing president.
Saleh's party said that millions would join the demonstration in response to anti-Saleh protests that have continued throughout the country in defiance of the peace plan's emphasis that all protests end.
"We all said signing the Gulf initiative will end protests so that life can go back to normal, but the opposition continued its protests, so that's why were back," said Murad al-Unsi.
"The opposition doesn't want to calm the situation. They want to get rid of all the supporters of the People's Congress and we are here to defend ourselves," said Saleh al-Matari as he held up a picture of Saleh.
Saleh announced on Saturday he would head to Washington, hours after his forces killed nine protesters demanding he face trial for killing demonstrators during the uprising against him. The U.S. is considering whether it will grant him a visa.
Washington and Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen, both fear continued chaos would allow al Qaeda to build on its already strong presence in the country, which is close to important oil shipping lanes.
Any successor to Saleh faces overlapping conflicts throughout the country, including a Shi'ite Muslim rebellion in the north and renewed separatist sentiment in the south, which fought a civil war with Saleh's north in 1994 after four turbulent years of formal union.
Islamist fighters have seized chunks of territory in the southern Abyan province. Fighting there has forced tens of thousands of people to flee, compounding a humanitarian crisis in a country where about half a million people are displaced.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Nour Merza; Editing by Matthew Jones)