Yemen opposition vows to intensify protests
Yemen's opposition movement vowed on Sunday to intensify protests against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after the embattled leader refused to resign by the end of the year.
With violence gripping the strategic US ally on multiple fronts, Washington and London advised their citizens to consider leaving the Arabian Peninsula nation.
The opposition Common Forum called on protesters to step up demonstrations which have left at least 19 people dead since January 27, according to a toll. Amnesty International counts at least 27 dead.
"We have called upon the people to widen demonstrations and escalate the peaceful struggle in all regions until he (Saleh) is left with one option, that is to leave," said Mohammed Sabri, a leading member of the forum.
The ultimatum came a day after Saleh -- who has ruled the deeply tribal nation since 1978 -- dismissed opposition calls for his resignation by the end of the year and vowed to serve out his current mandate until 2013.
In a statement carried late Saturday on the state-run Saba news agency, an official close to Saleh said an opposition transition plan envisaging his departure before the end of this year was "vague and contradictory."
"A peaceful transition of power cannot be done with chaos, but by having recourse to the people through elections, so that they can decide who they want to lead without acts of violence and trouble," the statement said.
Sixty-one anti-regime protesters were wounded on Sunday after supporters of the ruling General People's Congress party armed with knives, rocks and batons stormed a protest in the city of Ibb, south of Sanaa, leading activist Abdulkarim Mohammed Ali said.
The assailants targeted a 12-day sit-in at the Khaleej Sirt square, he said, adding that two of the wounded were shot, and three hit with sharp metal were in critical condition.
In other violence, suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen killed six soldiers, including two officers, in three separate attacks.
Four elite Republican Guard soldiers were shot dead as they delivered food near Marib, about 170 kilometres (110 miles) east of Sanaa, an official said.
In the south, Al-Qaeda gunmen shot and killed an army colonel who was shopping at a market in Zinjibar, Abyan province, a security official said.
Another officer was later shot dead at a restaurant in the city of Sayun, in the southeastern province of Hadramut.
Yemen is a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which a State Department official last month described as the "most significant" threat to the US homeland.
Sunday's attacks were not known to be connected to the anti-government unrest, but were a reminder of what is at stake if Saleh is ousted and a power vacuum ensues.
A State Department travel advisory issued Sunday said US citizens in Yemen "should consider departing" and described the security threat as "extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest."
"The US embassy's ability to assist US citizens in the event of a crisis in Yemen is very limited," it warned.
The British Foreign Office issued a similar advisory, warning of the "threat of terrorism, kidnapping and tribal violence."
The demonstrations in Yemen echo political turmoil that has gripped many Arab nations this year, forcing the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt to quit and throwing Libya into conflict.
Opposition spokesman Sabri said Saleh's refusal to quit by the end of the year "proves that the president is a political corpse" and the only option left for the opposition was the "street."
Indirect talks between the opposition and the regime that were being conducted through clerics had ended, he added.
The opposition and clerics last week offered Saleh a smooth exit from power this year, even as protests calling for his immediate removal spread from south Yemen to the east.
The five-point proposal called for a "peaceful transition of power," warned that demonstrations would go on and demanded a probe into a deadly crackdown by the authorities.
Security forces arrested 16 protesters in the main southern city of Aden on Saturday, as thousands demonstrated over corruption, poverty and high unemployment in the Arab world's poorest nation.
Witnesses said police used tear gas and fired warning shots. Two demonstrators were wounded after being beaten with batons.
Thousands of protesters also took to the streets in Ataq, in the eastern province of Shabwa, for a third consecutive day.