SANAA // Regime loyalists raked pro-democracy protesters with bullets in Yemen's capital Friday, killing at least 32 people in the bloodiest clash in nearly a month of protests, medics and witnesses said.
According to witnesses, pro-Saleh "thugs" opened fire on protesters killing at least 32 and wounding more than 200 wounded, taking the reported death toll past 70 since the demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh began.
An AFP correspondent said the shooting began from rooftops around a square at Sanaa University after demonstrators attempted to dismantle a barricade.
Thousands of people have camped out in the square since February 21, demanding the departure of Saleh, an autocratic US ally in the war against al Qa'eda who has been in power since 1978.
Dozens of people have also been wounded in clashes around the country since March 10, when Saleh promised to protect protesters from violence and offered to hold a referendum on a new constitution which would devolve power to parliament.
The United States, which sees Saleh as a pillar of stability in a fragile nation, welcomed the gesture, but Yemen's parliamentary opposition says the president has lost all credibility and must resign this year.
On Thursday at least 20 people were wounded and some 200 suffered from tear-gas inhalation when anti-regime protesters clashed with loyalists and police in Sanaa and Taez, medics and witnesses said.
And on Wednesday night masked men wielding guns, clubs and daggers attacked the Sanaa University protesters, wounding five.
Yemeni parliamentary opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri on Friday accused the regime of a "massacre" and said that "these killings will not help keep Ali Abdullah Saleh in power," on Al-Arabiya television.
On Wednesday, the opposition said the regime had committed "crimes against humanity, and that "President Saleh's son and his nephews who control the Republican Guard Forces and the national security forces (are) responsible for these crimes."
The opposition also urged the president to "hand the power over to the people."
The beleaguered Saleh last week promised to hold a referendum on a new constitution "clearly stipulating the separation of powers" between the president and the parliament.
The new charter would "install a parliamentary regime giving all executive powers to a government elected by parliament," he added.
Within an hour of the announcement, a spokesman for the main parliamentary opposition group rejected the promised reforms as "too late," signalling political unrest would continue.
Yemen is a US ally in the war against al Qa'eda, and is also fighting Shiite rebels and a southern secessionist movement.
A Yemen-based outfit called "al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula" is considered the biggest threat to the US homeland, a State Department official said recently.
The protests against Saleh's regime were inspired by similar popular uprisings that ousted leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.
Yemen is the poorest country on the Arab peninsula, though it produces some 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day.