SANAA // Yemeni government forces opened fire with anti-aircraft guns and automatic weapons on tens of thousands of protesters in the capital pushing for the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh, killing at least 12 and wounding dozens.
The attack was the deadliest in months against protesters, who have been massing daily in Sanaa and other cities since February to demand Mr Saleh's removal from the presidency.
The protests have swelled in the past week, amid Mr Saleh's latest decision to deputise his vice president to negotiate a transfer of power. Many believe the move is just the latest of many delaying tactics.
Greater numbers of security forces and armed regime supporters have also been turning out in the streets in recent days, hiking the tensions.
Yesterday, more than 100,000 protesters massed around the state television building and government offices. When the crowd began to march toward the nearby Presidential Palace, security forces opened fire, the witnesses said.
Regime snipers fired down at the crowd from nearby rooftops and plainclothes Saleh supporters armed with automatic rifles, swords and batons attacked the protesters.
"This peaceful protest was confronted by heavy weapons and anti-aircraft guns," said Mohammed Al Sabri, an opposition spokesman. He vowed that the escalating protests "will not stop and will not retreat."
Mohammed Al Abahi, a doctor at a Sanaa field hospital, said 12 protesters were shot dead and more than 200 were injured. "Most of the injuries are at the chest, shoulder, head and face," he said.
Twenty-five injured protesters were in critical condition.
Mr Al Abahi accused security forces of preventing ambulances from rescuing the injured and collecting the bodies of the slain.
Protesters throwing stones managed to break through security forces lines and advance to near the Yemeni Republican Palace at the heart of Sanaa, turning the clashes with the security forces into street battles.
President Saleh has been in Saudi Arabia since the summer, recovering from burns and other wounds from an explosion at his palace. He has resisted calls for him to outright resign after 33 years in power.
He deputised his vice president to discuss a GCC-mediated, US-backed deal under which he would step down in return for immunity for prosecution.
Mr Saleh has already baulked three times at signing such a deal.
Demonstrations also took place yesterday in several Yemeni cities including Taiz, Saada, Ibb and Dammar.
On Saturday, six university students were wounded in clashes between rival groups at Sanaa University, those involved and a medical official said.