SANAA, YEMEN - Anti-government protesters clashed with loyalists of President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the streets of the capital for the eighth straight day Friday, hurling insults and chunks of concrete at one another. But the loyalists - along with Yemeni security forces, who fired shots in the air - managed to swiftly disperse the crowds.
For the first time since revolts erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, the Yemeni soldiers, dressed in orange and brown uniforms, were posted at the scenes of the fighting, a sign that the government was stepping up efforts to calm the rising tensions.
Clashes also unfolded in other Yemeni cities, with thousands of protesters taking to the streets. In the southern city of Aden, one protester died and four were wounded when police fired gunshots to try to break up a crowd, the Reuters news service reported. It was the seventh death this week in Aden, where anger and resentment focused on Saleh is at a boiling point.
In the southern city of Taiz, local news media reported that tens of thousands of people were clogging the streets demanding the resignation of Saleh, a key U.S. ally who has ruled for more than three decades. One protester was killed and seven were wounded when a grenade was thrown from a car, Reuters quoted witnesses as saying. Thousands of Saleh supporters also turned out in Taiz, declaring that he was the only leader who could keep Yemen unified and stable.
In Sanaa, the capital, thousands of protesters marched along a main downtown street after Friday prayers, chanting, "The state must fall."
"Saleh is killing the people," said Alaa Al-Dubai, 26, as he stood under an overpass on Zubairy Street. "I'm a university graduate, and I have no job."
Minutes later, large numbers of Saleh loyalists appeared, clutching sticks and iron bars. Chunks of concrete flew in the air, and clashes erupted. Many of the anti-government protesters fled, but hundreds stood their ground and fought back, as soldiers and police watched.
Several participants on both sides were wounded, struck by flying pieces of concrete.
"The government has given them money to attack its own people," shouted one protester as he fled amid a hail of debris.
Fifteen minutes later, the swelling pro-government crowd had driven away the activists. For the next hour, the loyalists enthusiastically chanted pro-government slogans and waved large portraits of Saleh. Others drove around in cars and trucks emblazoned with Saleh's picture and honking their horns, proclaiming victory.
The anti-government protesters vowed to stage another demonstration Friday night.
The U.S. Embassy in Yemen said in a statement that it had observed "a disturbing rise in the number and violence of attacks against Yemeni citizens gathering peacefully to express their views on the current political situation," adding, "We have also seen reports that Government of Yemen officials were present during these attacks."
The embassy urged the Yemeni government to "prevent any further attacks on peaceful demonstrations."