SANAA — Armed civilians opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in Yemen's second-largest city Taez on Saturday, wounding 15 of them, medics and witnesses said.
Tension simmered in Yemen as Gulf Cooperation Council chief Abdullatif al-Zayani is expected to arrive in Sanaa, in a new attempt to convince rivals there to sign a Gulf-brokered plan that would see President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office within 30 days, informed sources told AFP.
The GCC plan, from which Qatar pulled out from on Thursday, proposes the formation of a government of national unity, Saleh transferring power to his vice president and an end to the deadly protests.
The president would submit his resignation to parliament within 30 days, to be followed two months later by a presidential election. He and his top aides would be granted immunity from prosecution.
Tens of thousands had joined the protest march along the city's main thoroughfare which came a day after a defiant Saleh rebuffed a call from his longtime US ally to agree to step down "now," the witnesses said.
Saleh loyalists opened fire on the protesters wounding 15 with live rounds, medics and witnesses said.
One of the wounded was clinically dead, a medical official told AFP.
Meanwhile, the protesters seized three of the assailants whom they described as the regime's "armed thugs," the organisers told AFP.
A general strike called by the opposition was widely observed in Taez, the witnesses added.
There was also a widespread shutdown in the formerly independent south, residents said, although the strike was less well observed in Sanaa.
On Friday, the capital saw huge rival demonstrations by supporters and opponents of the embattled president.
Saleh told the loyalist rally: "We will not remain passive in the face of law-breakers," and warned the opposition to "stop playing with fire."
The spokesman of the parliamentary opposition, Mohammed Qahtan, told Al-Arabiya television the president's remarks amounted to a "declaration of war."
Elite Republican Guards killed at least three anti-government demonstrators in the southern city of Ibb on Friday, opposition sources and witnesses told AFP.
The deaths brought to 179 the number killed in three months of protests against Saleh's regime, according to a toll compiled from activists and medics.