February 19, 2011 / 10:14 AM / 7 years ago

Rival Yemen demonstrators fire in air in Sanaa

SANAA (Reuters) - Supporters and opponents of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh fired shots in the air during rival demonstrations in Sanaa on Saturday, a day after five people were killed in protests against his 32-year rule.

Witnesses said hundreds of demonstrators threw stones at each other outside Sanaa University, injuring at least three anti-Saleh protesters. Some on both sides then fired pistols and assault rifles into the air in the first reported use of firearms by demonstrators, wounding two people.

A Reuters photographer saw one man with his face covered in blood and another being carried away by protesters.

Around 1,000 anti-Saleh demonstrators chanted “Leave! Leave!” and “The people want the fall of the regime!,” echoing the slogans of uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. Between 200 and 300 Saleh supporters called for dialogue.

On Friday, security forces and pro-government loyalists clashed in several cities with crowds demanding Saleh step down.

Doctors said four people died from gunfire in the southern city of Aden where resentment against rule from Sanaa runs high, and one was killed by a grenade in Taiz, Yemen’s second city.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was deeply concerned by the violence in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya.

“The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur,” he said in a statement.

Saleh, a U.S. ally against a Yemen-based al Qaeda wing that has launched attacks at home and abroad, is struggling to end month-old protests flaring across his impoverished country.

Yemen is also struggling to quash al Qaeda militants, defuse a southern separatist revolt and maintain a shaky truce with northern Shi‘ite rebels.

TRIBAL CONFLICTS

Analysts say any struggle to unseat Saleh could prove bloodier than popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt because Yemen is riven by tribal and regional conflicts and awash with guns.

Saleh, a master at juggling tribal and political loyalties, has been touring Yemen to drum up support, aware of the gravity of the protests that have gained momentum in the past month.

In a concession to protesters, he has promised to step down when his term ends in 2013 and not to hand power to his son. A coalition of opposition parties has agreed to talk to him, but protests have continued.

Additional reporting by Khaled Abdullah; Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Tim Pearce

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