DEADLY clashes have erupted in the Yemeni capital as tension spiked following a new wave of killings of anti-regime protesters by troops loyal to veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Eight people were killed and 27 wounded in the street battles overnight, which saw tribes and troops opposing Saleh ranged against loyalists, medics and a tribal source said today.
Four of the victims were killed in shelling that targeted the Change Square where protesters demanding the ouster of Saleh have camped out for months, medics said.
Some 10 rockets landed around the square, including one close to a field clinic, a medic at the facility said.
Fierce clashes took place in the northern Sanaa neighbourhood of Al-Hassaba between tribesmen led by Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, who opposes Saleh, and followers of Sheikh Saghir bin Aziz, who remains loyal to the embattled leader.
The brother of Aziz, Sheikh Saleh, 35, was killed when shrapnel hit his head, a medic at the Saudi German hospital said, adding that five others were wounded.
Two people killed in clashes in Al-Hassaba, and one of the four killed in the shelling of Change Square, were taken to the Science and Technology Hospital, according to Dr Mohammed al-Sarmi.
He said 22 wounded were hospitalised.
A tribal source in the office of Sheikh Sadeq, who leads the influential tribe of Hashid, said a civilian was killed when a rocket hit his house in Bahrain Street, in Al-Hassaba.
Saleh yesterday charged that the protests were being militarised and were part of a coup led by Islamists, apparently referring to the Islah (reform) party, which is known as the Muslim Brothers of Yemen.
Protesters said Saleh’s forces were trying through the shelling to force them to leave Change Square.
“The shelling came after Saleh’s speech. He is trying to terrify us to force demonstrators to go home, but they will not before achieving all their goals by bringing down the regime,” leading protester Walid al-Ammari told AFP.
Clashes also broke out overnight in Ziraa Street, east of Change Square between troops from the dissident First Armoured Division, led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, which provides protection for protesters, and Central Security forces loyal to Saleh.
Tension had escalated in Sanaa after demonstrators raised the stakes on Saturday, marching towards zones of the capital controlled by Saleh’s forces, prompting deadly response from loyal troops and gunmen.
Saleh’s forces shot dead 12 protesters on Saturday, while six people, including four demonstrators and two soldiers of Ahmar’s division, were killed on Sunday, according to medics. Dozens of others were wounded.
Meanwhile, Ahmar’s First Armoured Division said it lost 10 soldiers, including a major, in gunfire from Saleh loyalists over the past two days.
It accused the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh’s son Ahmed, and other security bodies led by relatives of the veteran leader, as well loyal “thugs” of being behind the killings.
“This was part of the series of crimes committed by Saleh and his bloody gang against peaceful demonstrators and their guards of the soldiers of the free Yemeni army that backs the revolution,” according to a statement.
Violence also erupted on Sunday in the flashpoint city of Taez, where Aziza Ghaleb, 21, became the first woman to be killed while marching in anti-Saleh protests since January.
General Ahmar has called on the international community to take immediate action to stop the bloodshed and force Saleh to step down.
Despite mounting pressure from Western governments as well as the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saleh has for months refused to sign the deal, even though he has repeatedly promised that he would.
According to a letter from Yemen’s youth movement sent to the United Nations earlier this month, at least 861 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded since mass protests erupted across the country.