Yemeni police have opened fire on protesters in the cities of Taiz and Sanaa, killing at least three. The UN Security Council was due to meet later Tuesday to discuss the crisis, which is in its third month.
REUTERS - Yemeni police opened fire on protesters in Sanaa and Taiz on Tuesday, killing at least three people, as protesters tried to escalate their campaign to end President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule.
The clashes came as Gulf mediators tried to bring government and opposition leaders together for talks on a presidential transfer of power in the poor, strategically located Arab state, a key battleground in the U.S.-led fight against al Qaeda.
Two people died and nearly 100 were hit by bullets when riot police stopped protesters marching towards Sanaa's main Zubeiri street, near the home of vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, medic Mohammed Qobati said.
Protesters stoned the riot police and set fire to a security vehicle, witnesses said. Al Jazeera television showed medics tending to dozens of wounded covered in blood.
The demonstrators have so far mainly been confined to an area around Sanaa University, where they have been camped out since February to press for political reform, while Saleh supporters have often gathered in other parts of the city.
At least one person was shot dead and another wounded in Taiz, south of Sanaa, as protesters across the country tested security forces' limits after three months of demonstrations demanding Saleh's ouster. Police opened fire in Taiz when protesters burned tyres in the street.
The U.N. Security Council was due to meet late in the day to discuss the situation in Yemen, where Western and Gulf Arab allies fear a prolonged standoff could lead to clashes between rival military units in Sanaa and elsewhere.
"They (protesters) are resorting to these tactics to try and escalate the situation because they feel like their demands are not being met," said Mohammed al-Mohammedi, a protester in Taiz.
Protesters shouted orders to salute soldiers who belonged to a battalion loyal to General Ali Mohsen, who has sent troops to protect demonstrators in Sanaa, as they marched past an army post manned by his troops.
Protesters in Sanaa and the Red Sea port of Hudeida have tried to march outside their traditional protest zones in recent days, prompting clashes with police who sought to pen them back.
Both Western and Gulf Arab allies have tried without success to broker a resolution involving a transition of power from Saleh, who has led the Arabian Peninsula state for 32 years. He says he wants a handover, but only to "safe hands".
Western countries and Arab neighbours say they fear sustained clashes in the mountainous country where Saleh has already lost control of several provinces would cause chaos that could benefit an active al Qaeda wing operating in Yemen.
The Security Council was planning to discuss the situation in Yemen on Tuesday at 1930 GMT and get a briefing by a senior official from the U.N. Department of Political Affairs.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Yemeni opposition should be careful not to hold back from talks in the hope of getting foreign help to topple the government.
"That is a very dangerous logic which can cause a chain reaction," he said on a visit to Serbia. "All those responsible, particularly members of the U.N. Security Council, must not opt for conflicts but for dialogue."
Gulf Arab states stepped in this month with an offer to mediate in Yemen after Western-brokered talks stalled, and Saleh representatives were due to meet Gulf foreign ministers in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to try to get direct talks back on track.
A delegation of Saleh's opponents, who initially rejected Gulf-led talks because they had not set a departure timeframe for Saleh, met Gulf ministers in Riyadh on Sunday to lay out their objections.
"We have great hopes that the Abu Dhabi meeting will extract a clear commitment for Saleh to leave," said Meshaal Mujahid, a protest organiser in Sanaa.
"We are not currently planning to march on the palace but we will escalate protests with a comprehensive civil strike."
The goverment sent a senior delegation to meet the ministers that includes Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi and Abdel-Karim el-Eryani, a former prime minister and foreign minister popular with Washington.
Saleh, who has accepted Gulf mediation, has warned of civil war and the break-up of the country if he is forced out.
More than 117 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces since January. A U.S.-based media watchdog said a Yemeni journalist for an Islamist opposition television channel was missing after being summoned by authorities.
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