Yemen pulls envoy from Qatar in row over Gulf plan

Yemen today called home its envoy from Qatar amid a dispute over a Gulf Arab plan for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, as anti-government protesters again marched in Aden and Taiz.

Unrest in Yemen descended into violence yesterday with at least five people killed and dozens wounded as Saleh rejected the plan to secure an end to his 32 years of autocratic power.

"The ambassador is being withdrawn for consultations," a Yemen Foreign Ministry official told Reuters, declining to be named.

Saleh, facing an unprecedented challenge from hundreds of thousands of protesters, initially accepted an offer by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to hold talks with the opposition.

On Wednesday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said the GCC would strike a deal for Saleh to leave.

Yesterday, Saleh told tens of thousands of supporters in the capital: "We don't get our legitimacy from Qatar or from anyone else ... We reject this belligerent intervention."

Frustration with the impasse could goad the thousands of Yemenis who have taken to the streets closer to violence.

Five protesters were shot dead yesterday, raising the death toll from clashes with security forces this week to at least 26.

Today, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Taiz, a major city in southern Yemen, and began to march to a presidential palace, residents said, a day after at least three protesters were shot dead in the city by security forces.

Hundreds of youths, including schoolchildren who were boycotting classes, marched in Aden, the main port in south Yemen, blocking traffic and asking shops to close in protest against Saleh's continued rule.

Residents said police shot in the air to disperse the demonstrators. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Even before the protest wave, inspired by other revolts in the Arab world, Saleh was struggling to quell a separatist rebellion in the south and a Shi'ite insurgency in the north, violence that has given more room for al-Qa'ida militants to operate.

All of this compounds fear for the stability in an Arabian Peninsula country that sits on a shipping lane through which more than three million barrels of oil pass each day.

Apparently trying to avoid the impression of a snub to Saleh's main supporter, a presidential aide told Reuters that Saleh's comments to the crowd in Sanaa were not aimed at Saudi Arabia's offer to host GCC-mediated talks.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement Washington welcomed the Gulf Arab initiative.

Pro-democracy protesters held a "Friday of firmness" in Sanaa, shouting "You're next, you leader of the corrupt," as armoured vehicles and security forces deployed across the city.

Around 700 riot police took up position close to General Ali Mohsen's forces. The veteran commander defected from Saleh weeks ago and his troops are protecting a Sanaa protest camp, but he has repeatedly said he has no ambitions to take power.

The Defence Ministry said yesterday that Mohsen's forces killed two pro-Saleh demonstrators in Sanaa. But a close aide to Mohsen denied the general's forces were involved in the shooting.

Some 40 per cent of Yemen's 23 million people live on less than $2 a day and a third face chronic hunger. Poverty and exasperation with state repression and rampant corruption drove the pro-democracy rallies that began over two months ago.

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