Yemeni troops defending a key southern city have battled with suspected members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for a second day, killing at least eight of them and raising the fighters total death toll from the ongoing clashes to 26.

In a statement on Thursday, the Defence Ministry said the clashes took place in Sayoun, one of the biggest cities in the province of Hadramawt.

Security reinforcements had been deployed over fears that Yemen's branch of al-Qaeda might try to seize the city.

On Wednesday, the military said it had killed 18 al-Qaeda suspects in clashes in the same area, the AP news agency reported.

In the spring, the military waged a wide offensive against al-Qaeda strongholds in the south.

Those who fled under intensive bombardment sought refuge in mountain areas bordering Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in Hadramawt.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been grappling with a number of regional rebellions in addition to the al-Qaeda insurgency.

Its forces have received considerable counter-terrorism training and assistance from Washington.

The US has waged a long-standing drone campaign against al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen, killing a number of high-ranking operatives, but also scores of civilians, drawing criticism from the Yemeni government and human rights groups.

Source: AP