Government backers armed with broken bottles, daggers and rocks chased down thousands of pro-reform demonstrators in Yemen's capital on Monday, turning unrest inspired by Egypt's uprising increasingly violent.
Police who had been trying to keep the sides apart locked several thousand fleeing protesters inside the Sanaa University campus near where they were rallying to stem the bloodshed. Five people were wounded in the melee, an opposition source said.
"Hey Ali, get out, get out!" anti-government protesters shouted, referring to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for over 30 years. "There is no solution except to leave."
Protests in impoverished Yemen have gained momentum in recent weeks, sometimes drawing tens of thousands of people, but have become more and more violent since Friday with clashes between rival protesters and police or pro-government groups.
The threat of turmoil in Yemen, already teetering on the brink of failed statehood, has pushed Saleh to offer significant concessions, including a pledge to step down in 2013 and an invitation to the opposition for a reconciliation dialogue.
Analysts have said Yemen is not yet at the point of an Egypt-style revolt, and any upheaval would likely unfold more slowly, and perhaps with more bloodshed, in a heavily armed country where tribal allegiances run strong.
"With our blood, we sacrifice for you Ali!" Saleh supporters chanted in Sanaa before violence erupted. Some of the several hundred Saleh backers who gathered held pictures of the man who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, and they waved Yemeni flags.
"Clashes in Taiz"
Another 12 people were reported hurt south of Sanaa, where police fired shots into the air as hundreds of anti-government demonstrators clashed with Saleh supporters, witnesses said.
But police were unable to control the crowds in the agro-industrial town of Taiz, where thousands of protesters had held a night-long rally.
The disturbances occurred while Saleh and the main opposition group were preparing for talks that the government hoped would help avert an Egypt-style revolt. They were due to begin within days, an opposition official has said.
"US visit delayed"
Saleh postponed on Sunday a U.S. visit scheduled for later in the month due to regional conditions, according to a state news agency.
Human Rights Watch criticised Yemeni police for what they described as unnecessary brutality against demonstrators, including the use of electroshock tasers.
"Without provocation, government security forces brutally beat and tasered peaceful demonstrators on the streets of Sanaa," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director of the U.S.-based rights group.
Police have generally stayed out of the fray in Sanaa, while crackdowns have been stronger outside the capital.
But on Sunday, police broke up an anti-government march to the presidential palace, sparking clashes in which police beat protesters with batons and protesters hurled rocks at police, witnesses said. Several journalists were briefly detained.
AgenciesLast Mod: 14 Şubat 2011, 14:38