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Violence On Three Fronts In Yemen After Government Crackdown


An antigovernment protester carries a wounded colleague after clashes with police in the southern city of Taiz on May 29.
Violence has been reported on three fronts in Yemen today, with government troops firing on demonstrators in the southern city of Taiz, militants battling government troops in the restive province of Abyan, and clashes reported in the northern part of the capital, Sanaa.

Reports from Taiz say at least 20 antigovernment protesters were shot dead today by security forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. With more than 100 protesters also injured in Taiz -- many seriously -- medical workers say the death toll is likely to climb there.

Medical sources and rights activists say troops fired live ammunition on the crowd outside of a municipal building in Taiz. The demonstrators had gathered there to demand the release of a fellow protester and to call for the resignation of Saleh.

Police overnight also used water cannons and tear gas in a bid to disperse the Taiz gathering. Foreign correspondents in Yemen say the violence in Taiz has sent shock waves across the country and could be a "turning point" in the struggle there.

In the Al-Hasaba neighborhood in the northern part of Sanaa, sporadic exchanges of gunfire and explosions could be heard overnight. That violence came despite a truce reached two days ago between government forces and fighters from the Hashed tribe, which last week was engaged in heavy combat against government troops in the city.

Four Soldiers Killed

Meanwhile, near the city of Zinjibar, security officials say four Yemeni soldiers were killed overnight and at least seven wounded when militants ambushed a military convoy. A Yemeni army colonel was reported to be among those killed when the militants launched rocket-propelled grenades at a convoy of troop reinforcements about one kilometer from Zinjibar.

Witnesses say Yemen's military used aircraft later in the day to attack suspected militant positions near Zinjibar.

Zinjibar is the capital of Yemen's restive Abyan Province. It has been controlled by armed militants since May 28 when large trucks carrying gunmen entered the city without being stopped at checkpoints by security forces. The government describes those gunmen as Al-Qaeda fighters.

On May 29, former Yemeni Defense Minister General Abdullah Ali Aleiwa accused Saleh of actually arming the militants in Abyan in order to create disturbances that could be used as a pretext for violence against antigovernment demonstrators.

"We condemn and strongly denounce what the regime did to surrender some of the provinces to groups of bandits, saboteurs, and terrorists, who were created by the regime, and to encourage them to murder and sabotage in a desperate attempt to harm our military," he said.

Surrendering To 'Terrorists'

The opposition Common Forum charged that Saleh "delivered Zinjibar to groups that he has formed and armed in order to continue to utilize the specter of Al-Qaeda to frighten regional and international parties."

Dissident army commanders accused Saleh of surrendering Abyan Province to "terrorists" by ordering about half of the troops in Zinjibar to leave the city on May 26.

Senior officials in Yemen's Defense Ministry rejected those claims today, saying half of the military personnel in Zinjibar had been redeployed to other restive provinces -- Aden, Thale, and Lahj -- to prevent militant violence there.

But security forces that have remained in Abyan Province are telling correspondents today that the government's orders for redeployments are forcing thousands of republican guards and security officials to defect to the antigovernment opposition.

compiled from agency reports