Yemen: Protesters injured as gunmen open fire

PLAIN-CLOTHED gunmen opened fire on protesters in Yemen's southern city of Taiz yesterday, wounding at least seven people, as a Gulf envoy was due to arrive to help revive a plan to end the crisis.

Protesters have been demonstrating across Yemen for months to try to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh in an uprising inspired by movements that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. A plan negotiated by neighbouring Gulf states for Saleh to step down fell through last month when he refused to sign.

The plain-clothed men fired from rooftops on protesters who demanded Saleh end more than three decades of rule in the Arab world's poorest country.

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Three people were killed and 15 wounded last Friday when troops shot at protesters in Ibb, a city south of the capital Sanaa. The latest killings pushed the overall death toll since protests began to at least 170.

Saleh, a wily political survivor, has clung to power despite defections from politicians, army officers and tribal leaders.

The secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif al-Zayani, was due to arrive in Sanaa yesterday for a three-day visit to try to resurrect the power-transfer deal which the GCC brokered between Saleh and opposition leaders.

Meanwhile, in the central town of Rada, gunmen shot dead six soldiers and wounded seven in an attack at a checkpoint on Friday. A local official blamed al-Qaeda for the incident.

Yemen also faces violence from separatists in the south of the country, a tenuous peace with Shiite rebels in its north and insecurity resulting from tribalism and poverty.