Anti-government protesters clashed with police blocking them from marching to Yemen's presidential palace in Sanaa on Sunday, witnesses said.
The clashes occurred while President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the main opposition group were preparing for talks that the government hoped would help avert an Egyptian-style revolt in the Arabian Peninsula state.
"The Yemeni people want the fall of the regime," protesters shouted during the demonstration attended by about 1,000 people, before dozens broke off to march to the palace. "A Yemeni revolution after the Egyptian revolution."
In the harshest response yet to a wave of protests in the capital, police prevented the smaller group from reaching the palace, hitting them with batons, while protesters threw rocks at the police, witnesses said. Four people were injured.
Anti-government protests have gained momentum in Yemen in recent weeks, inspired by protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and prompted Saleh to offer significant concessions to calm tensions, including a pledge to step down in 2013.
Many of the Sanaa protests, including a "Day of Rage" on Feb. 3 attended by tens of thousands of opposition and pro-government demonstrators, ended peacefully.
Although pro- and anti-government protesters have clashed in recent days, police have generally stayed out of the fray in Sanaa. They have clamped down more firmly outside the capital.
Opposition officials said 10 protesters were briefly detained in Sanaa on Sunday and 120 more were taken into custody overnight in the agricultural and industrial city of Taiz, where authorities broke up a demonstration on Saturday.
"Talks with opposition"
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch criticised Yemen for allowing government supporters to assault, intimidate and sometimes clash with protesters calling on Saleh to quit, saying it raised concern about the government's respect for free assembly.
"The Yemeni authorities have a duty to permit and protect peaceful demonstrations," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead, the security forces and armed thugs appear to be working together."
There was no immediate response from Yemeni officials.
Saleh, in power for more than three decades and concerned about unrest in some parts of the Arab world, said more than a week ago he would step down when his term ends in 2013 and pledged his son would not take over the reins of government.
The offer, which included an invitation to dialogue among other concessions, was his boldest gambit yet to stave off a showdown with protesters in the poverty-stricken state, where about 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, while a third suffer from chronic hunger.
"The opposition does not reject what came in the invitation by the president and is ready to sign an agreement in no more than a week," said former Foreign Minister Mohammed Basindwa, now an opposition politician.
Another opposition official said the talks should start within days. Yemen's opposition, which wants the talks to take place under Western or Gulf auspices, has said it is seeking assurances reforms would be implemented.
"Past experience is what has spurred us to request that representatives of the Friends of Yemen (donor countries) be in observance," Basindwa said.
Saleh, a shrewd political survivor, has backed out of previous promises to step aside. Analysts say his concessions could be a genuine way to exit gracefully but he may hope to wait out regional unrest and reassert his dominance another day.
AgenciesLast Mod: 13 Şubat 2011, 18:03