Hundreds of anti-government demonstrators and government loyalists fought with rocks and batons in the Yemeni capital on Tuesday in political unrest fuelled by Egypt's uprising.
About 1,000 protesters, marching down a street leading to the presidential palace, were blocked by riot police. As they dispersed into side streets, they were confronted by hundreds of government backers and both sides hurled rocks at each other. Four protesters, including one member of parliament, were wounded, two with head injuries.
Police soon stamped out the clashes.
"The people want the fall of the regime! This corrupt government should leave the country!" some of the protesters shouted, demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Protesters have hardened their calls for Saleh, who has ruled the Arabian Peninsula state for more than three decades, to resign after initially calling also for reform. Many were holding posters with one word: "Leave".
The threat of turmoil in Yemen has pushed Saleh to offer some concessions, including a promise to step down in 2013 and an invitation to the opposition for reconciliation talks. The opposition has agreed to negotiate with Saleh.
But analysts said the protests could be reaching a turning point, although they doubt whether Yemen would see a quick, Egypt-style revolt. Any change would be slower and could be accompanied by more bloodshed, they said.
"Yemen, and particularly President Saleh, is entering a very critical several weeks," said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen analyst at Princeton University.
He said the resignation of Egypt's president coupled with the emergence in Yemen of protests uncoordinated by the formal opposition coalition signalled a "crisis point".
The protesters have complained of repression and poor economic conditions -- around 40 percent of Yemen's 23 million people live on less than $2 a day, while a third face chronic hunger.
Rights groups have criticised loyalists and police for beating protesters with batons and electroshock tasers. Three ambulances followed demonstrators from the start of their march on Tuesday, a sign that eruptions of violence are now expected.
Some loyalists beat a parliament member who had joined anti-government protesters. Ahmed Seif Hashid told Reuters that he believed the ruling party had hired men for support, with some of them carrying daggers.
"Most of them were not members of the ruling party, they were hired thugs," he said. "Some of them tried to stab me in the back. The attacks here keep happening, they want to occupy the places used for protests."
A few hundred men had been waiting for protesters as they gathered at Sanaa University, the launch pad for anti-government rallies. Some waved pictures of Saleh, most carried batons.
"You cowards, you American collaborators! The people want dialogue to start," Saleh loyalists chanted.
Police cracked down on both sides to prevent clashes and have generally refrained from attacking protesters. But security forces have beaten and detained journalists and police broke up a march on the presidential palace on Sunday with batons.
AgenciesGüncelleme Tarihi: 16 Şubat 2011, 10:28