Government forces sprayed bullets at crowds of thousands calling for the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, killing at least 16 protesters and injuring hundreds, medics and witnesses said yesterday.
At the main demonstration in the capital, security forces and plainclothes gunmen shot dead 12 people in a bid to disperse protesters marching on Wednesday from Sana’a University Square toward the government headquarters, they said.
And the toll could mount, with 10 of the 226 demonstrators wounded by gunfire in critical condition, while another 141 injured by sharp objects and batons and 735 suffering from tear gas inhalation, medical officials said.
Police shot dead two protesters in the southern city of Taez, and two others in the town of Dhamar and the city of Hudayda.
“People want to march to the palace” of Yemen’s embattled president, the protesters chanted, in an apparent escalation of their 15-week push to oust Saleh who has been in office since 1978.
In Sana’a, security forces opened fire when the protesters got as close as 200m from the government building and the national radio, in what appeared to be an attempt to storm the council of ministers’ premises.
The interior ministry said the protesters had attempted to break security cordons to “storm the radio [building] and government headquarters.”
It added opposition gunmen positioned in a nearby building opened fire, claiming that it resulted in the death of one protester and wounding of others, the official Saba news agency reported late on Wednesday.
“They aim to shed blood and cause casualties [among protesters] to exploit that in mobilizing foreign public opinion,” the ministry was quoted as saying.
Besides gunfire and tear gas, security forces also used hot water on protesters at Sana’a University Square, scolding at least 12 of them, a medic said.
Armored troops led by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar had set a cordon around the University Square, dubbed “Change Square” since protests began, to protect camped-in protesters from a possible attack by loyal forces.
Security forces killed two protesters and wounded five others in Taez, bringing to seven the number of protesters killed since Sunday in Yemen’s second-largest city, according to a tally by medics.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets after the first protester was killed on Wednesday, marching toward several government offices in the city and forcing their closure, witnesses said.
They also marched toward the offices of Yemen Petroleum Co, locked its gate with chains and put up a banner saying: “Shut by the people.”
The interior ministry denied there were any deaths in Taez.
A protester was shot dead in the Red Sea port city of Hudayda when police opened fire to break up a demonstration near the provincial headquarters, a medic and witnesses said.
Another protester was killed by police in Dhamar, 100km south of Sana’a, as security forces opened fire on a demonstration, medics and witnesses said.