SANA'A // Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh yesterday rejected mediation by Gulf states trying to broker an agreement between him and his opponents, but his office said he is still open to negotiations.
With diplomacy stalled, Mr Saleh's security forces killed at least two protesters and wounded hundreds during demonstrations yesterday.
Sadek al Shujaa, head of the field clinic in Taiz, called the confrontation between police and protesters in that city "a massacre".
"This is a massacre and we live in an atmosphere of a war between two countries. We appeal to the police and army to stop killing peaceful protesters," Mr al Shujaa said.
He said at least two protesters was killed and that more than 100 were injured with live ammunition. He also said that more than 400 protesters suffered from gas inhalation. Witnesses said that police snatched protesters suffering from injuries.
In Sana'a, Mr Saleh told thousands of his supporters that he would not accept an exit plan announced by Qatar.
"Our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else. This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs," he said.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani said on Thursday that members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down".
Under the GCC exit plan, Mr Saleh would hand power over to his deputy in return for guarantees of protection for him and his family.
An opposition leader said the proposal includes the formation of a national unity government led by the opposition.
Abu-Bakr al Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister in the caretaker government, said late on Thursday that the government was studying the Gulf proposal, and that "any initiative aimed at finding a solution to the crisis in accord with the constitution of the Republic of Yemen is welcome".
Mr Saleh had met on Wednesday with Saudi, Qatari and Omani ambassadors and said he welcomed GCC mediation.
In contrast to Mr Saleh's critical remarks yesterday about the plan, the state Saba news agency quoted an unnamed source at the presidential office saying that he welcomed "the good efforts exerted by the brothers at the GCC, primarily Saudi Arabia, to solve the crisis between Yemeni sides, but he rejects the statement of the Qatari prime minister and foreign minister Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani and considers it an interference in Yemen's affairs which cannot accepted."
The Yemeni opposition, known collectively as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), has welcomed the GCC's proposal, but some youth leaders have said it is too lenient on Mr Saleh and his regime.
In Taiz yesterday, at least two protesters were killed and hundreds injured when police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters.
Protesters took to the streets in Taiz for the fourth consecutive day to denounce the violence last week that left at least 15 protesters dead and hundreds wounded.
About 125 people have been killed in protests that have raged across Yemen for more than two months.
The capital Sana'a yesterday featured protests both for and against the regime. The slogan of the anti-government gathering was "Day of Steadfastness", while the pro-government rally was dubbed the "Day of Reconciliation". Anti-regime protesters, including thousands of women, gathered at al Tagheer Square outside Sana'a University. The protesters, who carried Yemeni flags, chanted, "We are steadfast, steadfast ... the people want the regime to fall."
"America: you like Saleh, take him," one banner read, displaying a photograph of Mr Saleh and George W Bush, the former US president.
Judge Hamud al Hitar, the former minister of endowment, said the al Qa'eda presence in Yemen is exaggerated and that some Yemeni officials have used the spectre of extremism to keep support for the regime.
"This is a peaceful revolution which rejects violence, extremism and terrorism. The al Qa'eda presence in Yemen is not more than 10 per cent of what is being reported in the media," said Judge al Hitar.
About 10 other provinces staged large demonstrations yesterday to condemn violence and demand Mr Saleh's departure.
Pro-regime demonstrators assembled in Tahrir Square, chanting slogans in support of Mr Saleh, who has been in power since 1978. "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for Ali Abdullah Saleh," his supporters chanted.
They then marched from Tahrir Square to Sabaeen Square, where Mr Saleh delivered his speech.