|Al Jazeera's special correspondent reports on anti-government and pro-Saleh protests on Friday [Reuters]
Five people have been confirmed dead and many injured after Yemeni security forces fired at anti-government protesters in the southern flash-point city of Taiz.
In addition to those killed and wounded in the clashes that began on Friday and continued into Saturday morning, 650 people suffered from tear gas inhalation, according to medics at a field hospital set up near the site of a protest sit-in in the city.
Witnesses said the violence took place during a burial procession. Protesters, seeking the departure of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, had been carrying the bodies of five people killed earlier in the week to their gravesites when they ran into security forces.
The death toll from violence between demonstrators and security forces in Yemen this week alone now stands at 26.
The latest clashes came as Saleh rejected a mediation offer by Gulf nations that called on him to step down after 32 years in power.
Meanwhile, protests were also held in other cities across Yemen. In the port city of Aden, once the capital of an independent south, thousands of anti-government protesters gathered peacefully. In Hudaida, about 15,000 gathered to mourn protester deaths and demand Saleh's resignation.
And in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, tens of thousands of people assembled for rival demonstrations - with some demanding Saleh's dismissal and others showing their support.
|More than two dozen Yemenis were wounded by gunfire during Friday's opposition protests in Taiz [Reuters]
Police and army units were deployed to prevent any friction between the two sides.
Al Jazeera's correspondent in Sanaa, who is not being named for security reasons, said the pro-Saleh demonstrations in front of the presidential palace were very similar to those seen in recent weeks.
"It is very difficult for Al Jazeera to go anywhere near those protests. We have to rely on what we are seeing on Yemen state television ... we can see the mass crowds turning out week after week," the correspondent said.
"But according to some people in Change Square, where the rival protests are, those people are not there because they genuinely support Saleh but because they are either government forces dressed in civilian clothes or are being paid by the ruling party."
Our correspondent said such accusations have been going around for weeks, with pro-democracy protesters saying that the more Saleh loses control, the more he is seen firing on anti-government protesters and also trying to ensure there are large crowds at his rallies.
Protesters have been calling since January for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.
Saleh initially accepted an offer by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states trying to broker an end to bloody protests and hold talks with the opposition.
But he later rejected the plan for his exit in a speech broadcast on state television on Friday.
"We were born free, and we have free will, and they have to respect our wishes. We reject any coup against democracy, the constitution and our freedom," he told supporters in Sanaa.
Saleh said: "Our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else. This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs."
Al Jazeera's correspondent in Sanaa said: "Saleh addressed his supporters to make a total rejection of the offer put forward by the Gulf Co-operation Council.
"According to that proposal, they had called for him to stand down and hand power to a coalition of tribal leaders and other political figures. But he said, 'I reject, I reject, I reject'.
"He singled out Qatar and Al Jazeera and said, 'We don't have to follow their agenda'."
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar's prime minister, said on Thursday that members of the six-nation GCC "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down".
The GCC has invited Saleh and the opposition to a mediation session in Saudi Arabia. But the government has described the proposal as unconstitutional.
More than 120 people have been killed since Yemen's protests calling for an end to Saleh's rule began on February 11, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies