Yemen protesters forced to flee square after clashes
SANAA - Demonstrators began to flee a square in Yemen's capital Wednesday as security forces attacked pro-opposition troops led by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar who were protecting the sit-in protest.
Gunfire rang out in Sanaa raising fears among the protesters in University Square, dubbed "Change Square" after it became the epicentre of anti-regime demonstrations in February, said an AFP correspondent.
Less than 2,000 people were still at the square where at least 10,000 demonstrators used to gather daily since the eruption of the protests calling for the overthrow of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Fears had risen after government shelling on Tuesday targetted General Ahmar's troops, stationed near the square to protect the demonstrators, according to his spokesman Askar Zueiyl.
The forces were "targetted by an artillery shell and several soldiers were killed," Zueiyl said.
However, "the numbers and identities of those killed could not be verified as their body parts were scattered dozens of metres (miles) from the area and some of them were burned," he said.
Tribesmen loyal to powerful opposition chieftain Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar have been locked in gunbattles in Sanaa with government forces that have killed at least 44 people since Monday, according to a tally based on reports.
Clashes between the security forces and Ahmar's followers broke out in the capital after Saleh refused to sign a Gulf-brokered deal that would see him leave office within 30 days.
The tribesmen occupied public buildings, including state news agency Saba, the national airline Yemenia building and have tried to storm the interior ministry headquarters, according to witnesses and a high-ranking Yemen official.
Protesters on Wednesday took to the streets of Taez and Ibb, south of Sanaa, and in the Red Sea city of Hudaydah chanting against the violence in Sanaa.
"Our revolt is peaceful, we will not be dragged into civil war," their banners read.
Saleh on Sunday warned of civil war in the deeply tribal country as he refused to ink the power transfer accord.
Since late January, security forces and armed Saleh supporters have mounted a bloody crackdown on protests demanding his ouster, killing at least 181 people, according to a toll compiled from reports by activists and medics.