Deadly clashes erupted in the Yemeni capital on Tuesday, shattering a truce between loyalist troops and dissident tribesmen, as security forces shot dead seven protesters in the second-largest city of Taez.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton voiced shock at the use of live rounds against protesters in Taez in a crackdown that the UN human rights office said had already killed more than 50 people since Sunday. And 13 Yemeni soldiers were killed by militants in south Yemen: eight died from clashes with suspected Al-Qaeda fighters, and five others in a car bomb that targeted a military convoy, medics and security officials said.
Fierce fighting erupted in the capital Sanaa before dawn between troops loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and fighters loyal to Yemen's most powerful tribal leader, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, an AFP correspondent said. A plume of dark smoke rose into the sky over Ahmar's compound in north Sanaa, witnesses said.
There were also heavy exchanges between his tribesmen and loyalist troops around the military police headquarters and the official Saba news agency, as well as in a major thoroughfare in the city, the correspondent said.
Seven of Ahmar's fighters were killed in the clashes, according to medics. There was no immediate word of any casualties on the loyalist side.
Saleh's government accused Ahmar's fighters of breaking the truce which the tribal chief announced on Friday after four days of ferocious clashes.
The defence ministry's 26sep.net news website said that his tribesmen had seized both the headquarters of the ruling General People's Congress and the main offices of the water utility.
But sources close to Ahmar accused loyalist forces of breaking the truce by firing at his compound.
In Taez, south of Sanaa, loyalist security forces shot dead seven anti-government protesters on Tuesday, witnesses said, after more than 20 people were killed as a long-running sit-in in a central square was smashed.
Five people were killed in central Taez, witnesses said. Others clashed with police while trying to enter the city, leaving two protesters dead.
Witnesses said security forces were attempting to prevent anyone from gathering in Taez on Tuesday, and were firing at those who tried to do so.
An AFP photographer said that tension was high in the city in the afternoon, with many streets blocked by burning tyres, and a heavy deployment of security forces.
But despite the deaths, activists were preparing for another demonstration later in the day.
Protesters have since January been calling for the departure of Saleh, in power since 1978.
Tuesday's deaths came after security forces smashed a four-month-long sit-in in Taez, killing 21 protesters.
The UN human rights office put the death toll in the city since Sunday at more than 50, with hundreds more injured.
"The UN human rights office has received reports... that more than 50 people have been killed since Sunday in Taez" by security forces, it said in a statement released in Geneva.
"Such reprehensible acts of violence and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians by armed security officers must stop immediately," said UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.
EU foreign policy chief Ashton said: "I am shocked and condemn in the strongest terms the use of force and live ammunition against peaceful protesters in the city of Taez."
In the south, suspected Al-Qaeda fighters killed six Yemeni soldiers and wounded eight on Tuesday in an attack near the city of Zinjibar, a security official and a medic said, while another medic said two more soldiers had died of wounds sustained previously.
And later in the day, a car bomb targeted a security forces convoy in the same area, another security official said, which medics said killed five soldiers and wounded 23 others. The latest attacks bring to 41 the number of soldiers and civilians killed in fighting in or near Zinjibar since Friday, according to an AFP tally based on medics and security officials.
A security official said on Sunday that suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen had taken control of most of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.