Seventeen militants die in southern Yemen clashes

Members of Ansar al-Sharia in the southern Yemeni town of Jaar Ansar al-Sharia took advantage of political unrest last year to gain ground in southern Yemen

Seventeen militants and at least two government soldiers have died in clashes in south Yemen, the army says.

The clashes began on Tuesday night when the army retaliated for an al-Qaeda attack near Zinjibar, and carried on into Wednesday morning.

The army has been taking part in a new offensive to regain territory in the area lost last year.

Earlier, in the capital, Sanaa, thousands took to the streets to demand the speeding up of democratic reforms.

Demonstrators in Sanaa's Change Square called for the prosecution of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who relinquished power after mass rallies against his rule.

The authorities have now begun to dismantle the main protest camp in the square, correspondents say.

The clearing of the camp from the square was part of the political agreement that eventually saw President Saleh resign.

Key priority

Correspondents say the latest clashes were among the fiercest since the military began its assault early last month against Ansar al-Sharia, a group linked to al-Qaeda, in the southern province of Abyan.

Since being elected in February, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has vowed to make fighting al-Qaeda a key priority.

More than 350 people - mostly militants - have died in the campaign, which has the backing of the US.

The army claims it is now in control of almost 90% of Zinjibar but is still fighting to retake the northern part of the city.

Ansar al-Sharia, whose name means "Partisans of Islamic law" in Arabic, was formed by al-Qaeda in response to the growing youth movement in Yemen, which marginalised Salafi-jihadists who want the violent overthrow of the government.

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