Protesters in Sanaa demanded the creation of an interim governing council on Sunday [EPA]

Twelve fighters reported by government officials to be linked to al-Qaeda have been killed in gun battles with the Yemeni army in the southern city of Zinjibar.

The Yemeni army say two of its soldiers were killed in the fighting as troops battled on Sunday to retake the city, which lies in the southern province of Abyan, from the fighters.
"Twelve of the Ansar al-Sharia (Supporters of Islamic Sharia Law) terrorists were killed and three wounded after Artillery Brigade 119 targeted a group planting explosive devices on the main road," he said.

A medical source said a thirteenth fighter was also killed.

Oponents of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, accuse his government of exaggerating the threat from 'al Qaeda' fighters to head off pressure to end his 33-year rule.

Yemen is the home of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of the Osama bin Laden's, the former al-Qaeda leader, network.

The group is accused of anti-US plots, including an attempt to blow up a US-bound aircraft on Christmas Day, 2009.

In a separate development, two soldiers were killed on Sunday in the restive southern region of Lahij, a local official told the AFP news agency, adding that they were gunned down by armed men close to groups seeking the secession of the south.

"Gunmen opened fire on a military truck ... killing the driver and a passenger. Both were soldiers," the official said.

Earlier this month, a local official said that three Yemeni soldiers and two southern fighters were killed in a gunfight when fighters from the Southern Movement attacked an army checkpoint in Lahij.

Sanaa protests

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Sanaa, the capital, on Sunday hoping to keep the pressure on Saleh to step down for good.
The government said on Friday that the wounded leader will return to Yemen within days.
Saleh has not been seen in public since he was attacked on June 3, in an incident which left him with burns and shrapnel wounds.

"The people continue to bring down the regime," some protesters chanted.

The fate of Saleh, forced to undergo surgery in Saudi Arabia after the attack on his palace, is at the centre of a political crisis that has paralysed the impoverished state and threatened to tip it into civil war.

Months of protests against Saleh culminated in open warfare in Sanaa last month, after he ducked out of the latest of a series of deals that his wealthier Gulf neighbours crafted to help ease the Yemeni leader from power. 

Source: Agencies