Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh held rival demonstrations in the capital on Friday, in a test of support for the veteran leader's 32-year rule.
Protesters outside Sanaa University, repeating slogans which have echoed round the Arab world since the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, chanted: "The people demand the downfall of the regime."
About 4 km (2 miles) across town, loyalists shouted support for a leader they said was holding the fractured and impoverished tribal country together. "The creator of unity is in our hearts. We will not abandon him," they chanted.
Seventeen people have died in the past nine days in a sustained wave of nationwide anti-Saleh protests galvanised by the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents. Saleh has said he will not give in to "anarchy and killing".
In the south of the country, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in various districts of the port city of Aden, demanding an end to Saleh's rule.
Nine people were injured in the protests, witnesses said, and security forces blocked off the city to prevent people from neighbouring cities from joining them.
In the city of Taiz, 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital, about 10,000 people staged an anti-government protest.
Outside Sanaa university, Saleh's opponents held an auction to raise money for their campaign, selling a car and a watch, which fetched 600,000 riyals ($3,000).
"The revolution has started. It will not stop until all of our demands are met," said Fouad Dahaba, an opposition member of parliament who attended the rally. "We are not less than the people of Tunis and Egypt, who were emancipated."
Saleh supporters in Tahrir Square, many of whom arrived in buses, chanted "Yes to stability, no to chaos".
"There is no use in trying to destroy the country and divide it. We all must enter a dialogue to preserve the national interest," said Mohammad Saleh.
Authorities stepped up security in Sanaa ahead of the rallies.
Saleh had earlier "demanded security services offer full protection for the demonstrators" and prevent confrontations, according a statement from Yemen's Washington embassy.
Pro-Saleh loyalists wielding clubs and daggers have often sought to break up opposition protests in Sanaa and elsewhere.
Hours after the embassy statement was issued, a bomb exploded at a protest march by southern secessionists in the town of Lawdar on Thursday, killing one person and wounding two, a local official said.
A man who had set himself on fire earlier this week died of his burns at a hospital in Aden the same day, a doctor said. The man's relatives said he had acted in protest against the killings of demonstrators in the southern port city.
State news agency Saba said Saleh has also assigned a committee headed by Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Megawar to open a dialogue with protesters to hear their demands.
Nine members of parliament resigned from Saleh's ruling party on Wednesday in protest against what they said was government violence against protesters, but the president still has the support of around 80 percent of parliamentarians.
AgenciesLast Mod: 25 Şubat 2011, 17:32