Riot police opened fire on a crowd of protesting retired army officers, killing four people, activists and local medical officials said.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered on Saturday in the southern city of Radfan, about 300km south of the capital Sana'a, to prepare for a rally scheduled for yesterday to mark the 44th anniversary of southern Yemen's uprising against British occupation.
The protesters were largely former soldiers who fought on the side of the breakaway south in a 1994 civil war.
North and South Yemen were united in 1990 under President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been the north's president. In 1994, rebels announced the secession of the south and battled northern forces for several months in a civil war that ended in their defeat.
The protesters were gathering to plan their own rally, which had been banned by the government on the grounds that it would challenge an official event, said an opposition leader who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing government reprisal.
The Yemeni government deployed more than 1,000 police and members of the security forces and sealed off several roads heading to Radfan, in an effort to prevent more people from joining the demonstration.
A scuffle broke out between some protesters and riot police, who then opened fire, killing four people and injuring at least eight, the opposition leader said.
The casualty figure was confirmed by a local hospital official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Southerners say they are discriminated against and kept out of government jobs in favor of northerners brought in to fill the bureaucracy and security forces. Northerners also continue to hold large tracts of land in the south, granted to them after the civil war.
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