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Gulf states urge Saleh to step down amid spiralling violence

Neighbouring Gulf countries urged Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power to his vice president on Sunday, as anti-regime protestors were shot during brutal clashes with security forces.


AFP - Dozens of anti-regime demonstrators were shot in clashes with security forces, sparking charges of "massacre", as Yemen's Gulf neighbours appealed to President Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power.

Tens of thousands of people took part in demonstrations in Sanaa as well as Taez and Ibb, both south of the capital, and in the Red Sea city of Hudaydah to condemn Saturday's bloodshed, witnesses said.

The protesters shouted slogans condemning the "massacre" and carried the flags of several other Arab countries, including Qatar which has come out vocally in support of the departure of Saleh.

At least one anti-regime protester died after Saturday's clashes, while three other people were killed, including an intelligence officer and a soldier, in violence in Abyan province, an Al-Qaeda stronghold in south Yemen.

The protester was shot and fatally wounded when security forces using live fire mowed down dozens of demonstrators in Sanaa and Taez, said medics at a makeshift field hospital in the flashpoint city of Taez.

More than 40 protesters were wounded by live gunfire in clashes in Taez between security forces and demonstrators calling for Saleh's ouster that raged deep into Saturday night, medics said.

The confrontations were fuelled by anger after four demonstrators were shot dead in Taez on Friday. A week earlier, 17 demonstrators were gunned down in the city in clashes with security forces on April 3-4, according to medics.

In Sanaa, security forces shot and wounded 30 people on Saturday, while 80 others suffered injuries from beatings with batons, medics and demonstrators said.

Another 1,200 people needed treatment for tear-gas inhalation, said a medical team set up by mostly young protesters who have staged a sit-in at a square near Sanaa University since February.

The Gulf Cooperation Council on Sunday urged Saleh to ensure a peaceful transition to his deputy, GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani said after a meeting in Riyadh.

The GCC -- which groups Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia with Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates -- appealed to Saleh to "announce the transfer of his powers to the vice president," Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, said Zayani.

It also called for the formation of "a government of national unity led by the opposition" which would be responsible for "establishing a constitution and organising elections," he said.

Saleh on Friday rejected such a proposal for his exit made by Qatar's prime minister as a "blatant interference in Yemeni affairs."

His defiant statement came after Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani had said that the GCC member countries "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down."

Yemen, an impoverished neighbour of the GCC, recalled its ambassador to Doha in protest.

Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi had said Friday that Yemen's government was studying Gulf proposals and that "any initiative aimed at finding a solution to the crisis in accord with the constitution... is welcome."

In other violence in Yemen on Saturday, an intelligence officer was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his home in the Loder area of Abyan, doctors and security sources said.

His son was also wounded when two men on a motorbike opened fire on Colonel Hussein Gharama and sped off, according to witnesses, who identified the assailants as Al-Qaeda members.

And a soldier and a militant were killed in a clash between security forces and suspected Al-Qaeda fighters in Jaar, also in Abyan, a local security official told AFP.

Army artillery pounded a suspected Al-Qaeda hideout in Jaar for several hours on Saturday after the military urged local residents to evacuate the area. Residents later returned to their homes after the guns went silent.

A source close to the militants told AFP the army had withdrawn after two of its gunmen were wounded in the shelling.

The United States, which has counted on Saleh in its battle against Al-Qaeda, on Friday urged all sides in Yemen to engage in an "urgently needed dialogue" on a political transition.

Washington has expressed concern that Al-Qaeda militants based in lawless regions of Yemen have taken advantage of the political unrest as Sanaa eased the pressure on the Islamists.

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