Demonstrators in Sanaa, the capital, reported to have been protected by soldiers loyal to General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar.
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Heavy shelling and machine gun fire have rocked Yemen’s capital Sanaa, leaving at least 11 people dead and several injured in a third day of violence triggered by the deadliest crackdown yet on pro-democracy protesters, witnesses say.
The casualties have pushed the toll to more than 60 since the latest round of violence broke out on Sunday, according to hospital sources.
Shots rang out in the early hours of Tuesday despite reports of a ceasefire between troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and soldiers who had defected to the opposition.
In the lastest clashes five people were wounded when two rockets hit a protest camp, witnesses told Al Jazeera. More than 100 people have been wounded across the country since clashes erupted on Sunday.
“The rockets hit some men who were walking outside by a market,” said Dr Mohammed al-Qubati, the director of a field hospital at the protest camp.
According to an activist in Sanaa, the shelling has continued and protesters are being attacked at all entrances of the capital’s Change Square.
“The shelling has been going on since yesterday and it is not stopping. Every three hours we can hear explosions,” Alaa Jibran, a youth protest leader, told Al Jazeera.
Pro-democracy protesters have planned for a huge march again at 7:00 GMT on Tuesday, Jibran added.
Snipers open fire
On Monday, government troops and snipers opened fire at peaceful demonstrators and passers-by in Change Square, where they have camped since February demanding regime change, witnesses said.
Protesters were sprayed by water cannons and tear gas, and also baton charged, before the security forces opened fire with machine guns, they said.
Just hours after that incident, protesters and ex-soldiers stormed a base of the elite Republican Guards, who are loyal to the president. Reports said not a single shot was fired as the Guards fled the base, leaving their weapons behind.
The military confrontation between the ex-soldiers and government troops portends a new and even more violent phase in Yemen’s eight-month standoff.
Apart from Sanaa, deaths were also reported in the southwestern city of Taiz, where two people were killed and 10 were injured by gunfire from Saleh loyalists, Al Jazeera journalists stationed in Yemen said.
Despite the casualties, mass demonstrations continued on Monday in towns near Taiz – in Ibb, Dhamar and Shabwa – and in the northwestern province of Saada.
Abdu al-Janadi, Yemen’s deputy information minister, rejected accusations that the government had planned attacks on the protesters, and accused what he described as “unknown assailants” of carrying out the acts.
“This attack was prepared so as to kill as many people as they could … This is a plot against all the Yemeni people,” al-Janadi told a British broadcaster.
The violence ended a weeks-long standoff between the two sides, becoming Yemen’s worst incident of bloodshed since a similar massacre killed 52 people in mid-March.
The renewed crackdown on protesters came amid reports that Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, Yemen’s vice-president, would sign a Gulf Arab initiative to arrange for a transfer of power in Yemen “within a week”.
|Analyst says the US should prevent the violence|
“Within a week, the vice-president will sign the Gulf Initiative in the name of the president,” a high-ranking Saudi official, who requested anonymity, told reporters.
Last week, Saleh authorised Hadi to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition.
The initiative was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council and sets the path for a peaceful transition of power from Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978.
According to the Saudi official, “among the guarantees demanded by Saleh are that his son be kept in the next government”.
Saleh left the country three months ago for Saudi Arabia where he has been recovering from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound.
The president has since January faced protests over nepotism and corruption from reform activists inspired by the Arab Spring.