- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Thousands of protesters defied appeals for calm from the military and the country’s most influential Islamic cleric and marched in cities across Yemen on Thursday, pressing on with their campaign to oust the U.S.-allied president.

In the capital Sanaa, protesters fought off attacks by police and government supporters swinging batons and daggers. Municipal vehicles ferried sticks and stones to the pro-government side, witnesses said.

In the port city of Aden, protesters burned tires and government vehicles the day after security forces killed two demonstrators there, witnesses said.

For seven straight days, protests have hit the capital, Sanaa, and other cities in the Arab world’s poorest country, a mountainous territory wracked by tribal conflicts, armed rebellion and other serious woes.

Inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, Yemenis have poured into the streets to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 32 years in power — three years more than Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Their main grievances are poverty and government corruption.

Mr. Saleh’s promises not to run for re-election in 2013 or to set up his son as his heir have failed to quiet the anti-government storm sweeping Yemen and other nations in the region. Similar protests also swept into Libya and Bahrain this week.

The Yemeni president is an important U.S. ally in fighting al Qaeda. The terror group’s Yemen-based offshoot has been linked to attacks beyond Yemen‘s borders, including the failed attempt in December 2009 to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner.

Thursday’s protests in the capital began with small gatherings of students marching toward the downtown area. Others joined them as clashes broke out with police and government supporters. The number of protesters reached about 6,000.

“People want to topple the president, people want to topple the regime,” they chanted.

Witnesses said police fired shots into the air to disperse the protesters. A dozen protesters and an unknown number of policemen were injured.

Security officials said police arrested about 50 protesters.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said 10 protesters were injured in clashes with police, who also tried to prevent journalists from working.

“Yemenis have a legitimate right to freedom of expression and assaults against both them and journalists covering their protests are totally unacceptable,” said Philip Luther, the group’s regional deputy director.

In Aden’s Mansoura district, protesters burned tires and at least four government vehicles, one day after security force killed two demonstrators there in an attempt to quell the unrest.

Protester Adib Salam said police shot rubber bullets and live rounds at protesters and attacked them with batons and stun guns. He said many injured were lying in the streets because cars and ambulances could not move freely in the city.

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