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13 killed in clashes between Yemeni gov't forces, protesters

by Mohamed al-Azaki, Wang Qiuyun

SANAA, Dec. 24 , 2011 (Xinhua) -- The death toll from clashes between forces loyal to Yemeni outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh and tens of thousands of southern protesters rose to 13 while 200 others were injured, medics and officials said Saturday.

The clashes took place when the government forces attempted to force the protesters, who were marching since Tuesday from southern provinces of Taiz, Aden, Ibb and Dhamar towards the capital, away from a presidential compound. The demonstrators arrived in Sanaa Saturday, demanding Saleh's prosecution.

"The death toll among protesters increased to 13, including a journalist identified as Tawfic Ahmed, and about 200 others were wounded," doctor Faiz al-Shaybani, a medic at the protesters' field hospital in Sanaa told Xinhua.

The government forces used tear gas and water cannons and fired warning gunshots to disperse the rally, while the protesters threw stones in return, according to the witnesses.

"No immunity for Saleh," chanted the protesters, who walked about 200 km from Taiz to Sanaa to demand Saleh's prosecution for "his crimes against the 11-month-old protest movement."

A security official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that four government soldiers were injured during the clashes.

The four-day march, which accompanied by mobile clinic and kitchen, aims to send a message to the UN Security Council and the Arab League about their demand to prosecute Saleh, said its organizers.

Meanwhile, Saleh held a press conference in Sanaa on Saturday evening, saying that he is planning a trip to the United States for medical check.

"I will go to the U.S. for medical check, as well as to stay away from attention and media, and I will return back to Yemen to go to street to take part in opposition activities," he told reporters without giving specific date of his trip.

Saleh also denounced the opposition rally, considering it a " clear violation of a Gulf-brokered initiative that granted him immunity from prosecution."

He called on the new government of Prime Minister Mohamed Basindwa to fulfill its commitment to implement the UN-backed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative in full.

Official Saba news agency reported that Basindwa ordered Ministers of Defence and Interior to launch a comprehensive investigation into the Saturday clashes.

Later in the day, the ruling party website quoted U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein as saying that "Saturday protest march was not a peaceful one as it aimed at causing chaos and violence."

In the evening, more than 20,000 protesters from the south continued their march in downtown Sanaa, screaming out slogans and frightening citizens.

The impoverished Arab country has been in the grip of months- long political crisis triggered by mass protests demanding to oust Saleh. About 2,000 people have been killed and thousands of others injured since the protests began in late January.

Saleh and the opposition signed the GCC initiative in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 23. Under the deal, a new opposition-led coalition government was formed earlier this month and early presidential elections are set to be held on Feb. 21, 2012, while Saleh retains the title of honorary president for 90 days before his resignation and enjoys immunity from prosecution afterwards.


:: Article nr. 84221 sent on 25-dec-2011 04:06 ECT


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