Middle East

Deadly protests erupt in Yemen capital Sanaa

A wounded dissident soldier is carried for treatment in Sanaa, 15 Oct
Image caption A wounded dissident soldier is carried for treatment in Sanaa

Security forces in Yemen have shot dead at least 12 people and wounded 80 others during protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital, Sanaa.

Tens of thousands marching to the city centre were met with live rounds, tear gas and water cannon.

President Saleh has been battling eight months of street protests.

Separately, the media chief of militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was reportedly killed in an air strike.

Witnesses in Sanaa said protesters calling for the resignation of Mr Saleh were marching from their stronghold in Change Square to an area controlled by the elite Republican Guard force, which is loyal to the president.

Many of the wounded were taken by ambulances to a field hospital in Sixty Street.

Anti-government protesters have been camping there for months.

And in a northern district of Sanaa, at least six people were killed in fighting between supporters of President Saleh and Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, a leading tribal chief who has sided with the protesters

Mr Saleh has so far resisted calls from many Western countries to stand down, in spite of saying on several occasions he was prepared to do so.

On 8 October he said in a speech broadcast on state television: "I reject power and I will continue to reject it, and I will be leaving power in the coming days."

Mr Saleh returned to Yemen unexpectedly last month from Saudi Arabia, where he had been receiving treatment after his office was shelled in June.

As well as street protests, he faces an insurrection by renegade army units.

Mr Saleh has repeatedly refused to sign a transition deal brokered by Gulf states, first presented in March, whereby he would hand over power to his vice-president in return for immunity from prosecution.

Pipeline attack

Meanwhile, Yemen's defence ministry said al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) media chief Ibrahim al-Banna, an Egyptian national, and at least six other militants had been killed in an air strike in Shabwa province on Friday.

Tribal elders in the area said the attack also killed the eldest son and a cousin of US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by the Americans last month.

Some reports said the latest attack also involved pilotless US drones, others that it was by Yemeni planes.

Local officials told Reuters news agency that as many as 24 al-Qaeda militants were killed.

The defence ministry called Banna one of the group's "most dangerous operatives", who was wanted internationally for "planning attacks both inside and outside Yemen".

Local officials said a house where the militants had been meeting had been targeted but the group had already left. The vehicles they were travelling in were subsequently hit and destroyed.

There have been previous reports of Banna's death, including one in January last year, but these were denied by AQAP.

In an apparent revenge attack, militants had blown up a gas pipeline that runs from Maarib province to Belhaf on the Arabian Sea, with flames visible several kilometres away.

Yemen regularly plays down the American role in the country, saying it is supporting Yemen's own counter-terror operations.

A US drone attack in Khashef in Jawf province, about 140km (90 miles) east of Sanaa on 30 September killed Awlaki, a US-born radical Islamist cleric, and US-born propagandist Samir Khan.