Yemen snipers shoot protest crowd

Yemeni security forces fired on thousands of anti-government protesters marching to the cabinet building today, killing one and injuring at least 40.

The crowd, demanding the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, were marching from a main square in Sanaa when they came under fire from snipers on rooftops, plainclothes security forces, and soldiers with anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks.

"The snipers were shooting at the people," said protester Talal al-Hamadi. "People rushed and some fell over each other. There was a stampede."

Yemen has been shaken by nearly three months of protests. Several top military commanders and ruling party officials have defected to the opposition. Saleh, in power for more than three decades, has rejected a regional mediation offer and intensified a crackdown that reportedly has killed more than 140 people.

Yemen - the southern neighbour of Saudi Arabia - faced crises even before the protests, plagued with widespread corruption, a weak central government, a Shiite rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and an active branch of al Qaida operating in the back country.

After the gunfire in Sanaa, protesters took shelter in residential buildings and houses in side streets while security forces chased after them.

One of the demonstrators, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said protesters used motorbikes to carry the injured to places where they could be treated - in some cases being halted en route by plainclothes officers who took injured protesters to police vehicles.

The march was part of protesters' plans to escalate their opposition movement by holding repeated protests in front of state institutions.

Tawakul Karman, a senior member of the main opposition party, Islah, said plans were developing for marches on the presidential palace in Sanaa, and other government buildings elsewhere, to press Saleh to step down.

In southern Yemeni city of Taiz, three protesters killed and four wounded when security forces opened fire on a rally, and demonstrators there took over an Oil Ministry building.

One protester was reportedly killed in the city of Damar, when protesters clashed with police.