Four Yemeni protesters killed in fresh unrest

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Five protesters including a schoolboy were killed in fresh bloodshed in Yemen on Saturday as clashes between police and anti-regime demonstrations raged across the country.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the "unacceptable" violence against anti-regime protesters and the Foreign Office said all British citizens "should leave Yemen as soon as they can".

Security forces in the impoverished country, a key US ally in the war against Al-Qaeda, fired bullets and tear gas at demonstrators camping at University Square since February 21, killing one and wounding 300 other, protest organisers said.

A sniper shot dead another man as he walked with a group of demonstrators to the square, an opposition party member said.

Police shot dead the schoolboy in the southeastern city of Mukalla as they tried to disperse a student demonstration, witnesses and medics said.

And two other protesters were later killed in the southern port city of Aden, one by police when they opened fire to disperse a demonstration and the other when demonstrators set fire to a police station in the city.

A medical official said hundreds of angry people set ablaze the police station after to protest the death of the protester earlier in the day. Several people were also wounded by gunfire, he said

The violence comes a day after 14 protesters were wounded in protests across the country, which is already battling secessionist unrest, a Shiite sectarian rebellion and jihadists from Al-Qaeda's Arabian Peninsula offshoot.

More than 30 protesters were shot with live rounds in Sanaa's University Square, and hundreds more suffered injuries including loss of consciousness and spasms from breathing gases, medics said.

The dawn assault targeted demonstrators who had breached a concrete police barrier at the square, where activists have been staging a sit-in for almost three weeks to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh has insisted he will see out his term until 2013 while offering to devolve power to parliament after a referendum on a new constitution this year.

The United States has applauded the offer, with US President Barack Obama's top anti-terror advisor, John Brennan, on Friday calling on the Yemeni opposition to "respond constructively," the White House said.

Opposition groups had already dismissed the promise of constitutional change and have vowed to escalate protests until Saleh, in power since 1978, resigns.

Parts of Sanaa resembled a battleground as people passed out in the street and convulsed after inhaling gas fired at the demonstrators.

"This isn't tear gas. This is poison gas that disables the nervous and respiratory systems. People hit by this gas pass out," said Iraqi doctor Hussein al-Joshaai, a nerve specialist who was at the scene.

Another doctor, Abdulwahab al-Inssi, said: "Those wounded today couldn't have been hit by tear gas grenades. They are suffering spasms."

The interior ministry denied the allegations as "baseless slander."

It accused protesters of opening fire at security forces who had tried to prevent clashes between demonstrators and residents near the square. It said 161 police were injured.

Street battles raged all morning as security forces blocked roads to the square and prevented ambulances from evacuating casualties, protest organisers said.

A security official said police were not planning to storm the sit-in, only "return the demonstration to its size of yesterday because the expansion of the sit-in has disturbed residents."

US ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein described Saturday's clashes as "dangerous" and called for "dialogue and negotiation."

"As the tension grows, as the positions of the two sides harden, the possibility for conflict grows," he told journalists, reiterating US concerns that Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen could capitalise on the instability.

US special forces troops are in Yemen helping to train anti-terror forces as the country struggles to contain Al-Qaeda's local offshoot -- described by a State Department official as the biggest threat to the US homeland.

In London Hague said: "I was shocked by the unacceptable violence seen in Sanaa today." He said protesters had "legitimate demands" and urged both sides "to engage urgently in an open and constructive dialogue."

More than 30 people have been killed since the unrest erupted in late January.

© 2011 AFP

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