|Opposition supporters, inspired by recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, stage anti-government protests in Sanaa
Tens of thousands of people in Yemen have taken to the streets in the country's capital, calling for an end to the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president.
Inspired by recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, opposition members and youth activists rallied at four different locations in Sanaa on Thursday, chanting for Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years, to step down.
"Enough being in power for [over] 30 years," protesters shouted during the demonstrations.
They also referred to the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, saying he was "gone in just [over] 20 years".
"No to extending [presidential tenure]. No to bequeathing [the presidency]," they chanted.
An opposition activist said that the staging of the demonstration in four separate parts of the capital was aimed at distracting the security forces.
One area chosen for the protest was outside Sanaa University. Security measures at the demonstrations appeared relaxed, but were tight around the interior ministry and the central bank.
'Not like Tunisia'
Meanwhile, Saleh's ruling General People's Congress held counter marches attended by thousands of the government's backers.
"No to toppling democracy and the constitution," the president's supporters said in their banners.
In the southern provinces of Dali and Shabwa, riot police used batons to disperse anti-government protesters, while thousands took to the streets in al-Hudaydah province along the Red Sea coast.
In the southern port city of Aden, a 28-year-old unemployed man set himself on fire to protest the economic troubles in the country, an act that echoed that the sparked the uprising in Tunisia. Fouad Sabri was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, medical officials said.
However, Motahar Rashad al-Masri, the Yemeni interior minister, ruled out any resemblance between the protests in Yemen and the public outcry in Tunisia and Egypt.
"Yemen is not like Tunisia," he said, adding that Yemen was a "democratic country" and that the demonstrations were peaceful.
He told Al Jazeera that Yemeni authorities would not curb any demonstrations that are peaceful, regardless of their size.
'Right to protest'
The United States, which has played an increasingly active role in Yemen amid fears that al-Qaeda is using it as a base for attacks, said it backed the right to peaceful protest.
Washington supports the right of Yemenis to "express themselves and assemble freely," Philip Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said.
Saleh was re-elected in September 2006 for a seven-year mandate.
A draft amendment of the constitution, under discussion in parliament despite opposition protests, could allow him - if passed - to remain in office for life.
Saleh is also accused of wanting to pass the reins of power in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state to his eldest son Ahmed, who heads the elite Presidential Guard.
But in a televised address on Sunday, Saleh denied such accusations. "We are a republic. We reject bequeathing [the presidency]", he said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies