- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni security forces opened fire on a massive anti-government demonstration in the capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday, killing nine protesters and wounding some 100, a doctor at the scene said.

The violence broke out as about 100,000 government opponents filled a landmark square at the epicenter of the uprising, spilling into the streets around the state TV building. Witnesses said security forces, including members of the elite Republican Guard, fired live ammunition and tear gas into the crowd to break it up. Snipers were seen on nearby rooftops aiming at the crowd.

“Many of the dead and wounded were shot in the head and torso,” Dr. Mohammed al-Ibahi told the Associated Press.

Yemenis in at least 18 cities and towns launched a civil disobedience campaign Wednesday in an escalation of their more than 2-month-old uprising to bring down long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Shops, schools and government offices were shuttered. The closures are planned twice weekly until Mr. Saleh steps down, activists said.

Inspired by revolts across the Arab world, Yemenis have staged near-daily protests calling for the ouster of Mr. Saleh, the country’s ruler of 32 years. At times, millions of people have flooded the streets of the capital and other cities and towns. The president has clung to power despite the street protests and defections by many loyalists, including his tribesmen, military officers and senior officials.

Security forces and Saleh supporters have killed more than 130 people since the unrest erupted in early February.

Yemen was already a country teetering on the brink even before the uprising began. Poverty and corruption are rampant, and there is widespread lawlessness. The weak central government, backed by the United States, was grappling with one of the most active al Qaeda offshoots in the world, as well as a southern secessionist uprising and a Shiite rebellion in the north.

In other violence Wednesday, units of the elite Republican Guard force in the southern port city of Aden clashed with anti-government demonstrators who were marking the anniversary of the 1994 outbreak of Yemen’s civil war, which saw Mr. Saleh’s army suppress an attempt by the southerners to secede.

One protester was killed and dozens were wounded in Wednesday’s clashes, which involved tanks, armored cars and heavy weapons, according to local activist Wajdi al-Shaabi.

And in the country’s second largest city, Taiz, tens of thousands demonstrated in main streets against a Gulf Arab initiative that has proposed giving Mr. Saleh and his family immunity from prosecution if the president steps down within 30 days, activist Nouh al-Wafi said.

Elsewhere, two soldiers were killed and three wounded when masked gunmen attacked a military checkpoint at the entrance of Zinjibar, the capital of southern Abyan province, which has been a hotbed for Islamic militants.

Col. Ahmed al-Muhsini of the Zinjibar intelligence office confirmed the attack over the telephone and told the AP that the assailants had fled afterward.

The authors of the Gulf Arab initiative, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, will meet Sunday in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where its foreign ministers are to fine-tune the draft proposal for ending Yemen’s crisis.

Yemen’s opposition parties said Tuesday they soon will sign the deal, to which Mr.  Saleh already has agreed. It calls for the creation of national unity government and would have Mr. Saleh transfer power to his vice president within 30 days of the signing of the deal. In exchange, Mr. Saleh and his family would received immunity from prosecution.

But the proposal appears to have opened a serious rift between opposition parties and the hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets, who are suspicious and instead demand that Mr. Saleh resign immediately.

The head of the Yemeni opposition’s council for dialogue, Salem Mohammed Bassindwa, said GCC chief Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani would visit Sanaa on Saturday, ahead of the meeting in Riyadh.

Saudi reports have speculated that the deal on ending Yemen’s crisis could be signed as early as Monday in Riyadh.

In a sign of the opposition’s suspicions, Mr. Bassindwa said his side only would accept a deal that Mr. Saleh signed personally and not one signed by a presidential envoy. He suggested it would be best for Mr. Saleh to sign the agreement in Sanaa, with witnesses from the GCC, United States and the European Union.

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