Two more die as Yemeni forces fire on protesters

Forces loyal to Yemen's embattled President opened fire at protesters demanding his removal yesterday, killing two demonstrators at two separate rallies and wounding at least 10 people at a third protest, activists said.

The latest violence came as a Gulf Arab proposal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down appears increasingly doomed, raising prospects of more bloodshed and instability in a nation already beset by deep poverty and conflict.

The near-daily protests against Mr Saleh, the country's ruler of 32 years, have demanded his immediate resignation. Yesterday's deaths came during anti-Saleh protests in Ibb and in the central city of Bayda, said activist Ibrahim al-Budani. In Ibb, 120 miles south of the capital, Sana'a, demonstrators set fire to two cars used by government-paid thugs who shot at them, but the attackers managed to flee, he said.

In the southern city of Taiz, presidential guard troops, who are commanded by Mr Saleh's eldest son, fired bullets and tear gas into tens of thousands of protesters gathered there, said an activist, Nouh al-Wafi.

Another activist, Bushra al-Maqtari, said at least 10 protesters were wounded by gunshots in Taiz, some of them critically. Dozens suffered breathing problems from tear gas.

Mr Wafi said the protesters were rallying for Mr Saleh's overthrow with a simple chant: "Leave!" He said the troops prevented ambulances from getting to the wounded, and that several people and local journalists were arrested.

On Saturday, Mr Saleh agreed to a formula by a Gulf Arab group, the Gulf Co-operation Council, for him to transfer power to his Vice-President within 30 days of a deal being signed in exchange for immunity from prosecution for him and his sons.

A coalition of seven opposition parties generally accepted the deal but thousands on Sunday remained in a permanent protest camp in Sana'a and their leaders said they suspected the President is just manoeuvring to buy time and cling to power, as he has done in the past. The protesters insist they would not accept anything short of Mr Saleh's immediate departure.