|Ali Abdullah Saleh has defied assiduous calls from protesters to step down [AFP]
Hundreds of Yemeni women have set fire to traditional female veils in protest against the government's brutal crackdown on the country's popular uprising, as overnight clashes in the capital and another city killed 25 people, officials said.
Women spread a black cloth across a main street in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday and threw their full-body veils, known as makrama, onto a pile, sprayed it with oil and set it ablaze.
As the flames rose, women activists handed out leaflets appealing for help and protection.
"This is a plea from the free women of Yemen; here we burn our makrama in front of the world to witness the bloody massacres carried by the tyrant [President Ali Abdullah] Saleh,'' the leaflets read.
Yemeni women have taken a key role in the uprising against Saleh's rule since March, inspired by revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Their role came into the limelight earlier in October, when Yemeni woman activist Tawakkul Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with two Liberian women, for their struggle for women's rights.
The protest came as clashes have intensified between Saleh's forces and army deserters backing the protesters and the opposition in demands that the president, in power since 1978, step down.
Citing medical and local officials, the Associtaed Press reported that up to 25 civilians, tribal fighters and government soldiers died overnight in Sanaa and the city of Taiz despite a cease-fire announcement by Saleh late on Tuesday.
Scores of others were wounded.
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A medical official said seven tribal fighters were among those killed in Sanaa's Hassaba district. Another medical official said four residents and nine soldiers also died in the fighting there.
Government forces also shelled houses in Taiz - a hotbed of anti-Saleh protests - killing five people, including four members of one family, a local official said.
Saleh has clung to power in the face of more than eight months of massive near-daily protests against his rule.
During a meeting with the US ambassador on Tuesday, Saleh offered to sign a US and Gulf Arab-backed power transfer deal that gives him immunity from prosecution if he steps down.
The meeting with Gerald Feierstein, the ambassador, was Saleh's first since he returned last month from Saudi Arabia, where he was treated after an attack on his presidential compound in June left him badly wounded.
Saleh has repeatedly backed out of the deal at the last minute and the opposition has dismissed his latest offer.