Yemen women burn face veils to protest attacks

October 26, 2011 - 5:40 AM

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Hundreds of Yemeni women have set fire to a pile of female face and body veils on a main street in Sanaa to protest the government's brutal crackdown against the country's popular uprising.

The act of women burning their clothing is a symbolic Bedouin tribal gesture signifying an appeal for help to tribesmen.

Wednesday's protest comes as clashes intensify between forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and renegade fighters who have sided with the opposition in demands that the president step down.

Medical and local officials say up to 25 civilians, tribal fighters and government soldiers died overnight in Sanaa and the city of Taiz despite Saleh's ceasefire announcement late Tuesday.

Saleh has clung to power in the face of more than nine months of massive protests against his rule.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's president on Tuesday called in the U.S. ambassador and told him he would sign a deal to step down, a U.S. official said. The embattled leader, who has made that pledge several times before, spoke as violence shook his capital.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh informed Ambassador Gerald Feierstein of a new cease-fire, but clashes on the streets threw that into doubt. Activists said seven protesters were killed and 10 wounded.

It was the first meeting between Saleh and a U.S. ambassador since Saleh returned from Saudi Arabia last month, said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. Saleh left Yemen after an attack on his compound in early June left him badly wounded.

Nine months of mass protests calling for his resignation have moved his powerful Arab neighbors, with U.S. backing, to propose a plan allowing Saleh to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution. That reflected a reversal for the U.S., which up to then had backed Saleh as an ally in its fight against al-Qaida in Yemen.

Nuland said Saleh confirmed he would sign the Gulf Cooperation Council plan for him to step down — a claim he has made several times this year but then backed down at the last minute, infuriating both opponents and former allies.

She also said that Saleh confirmed that a cease-fire had been arranged with the opposition demonstrators, as announced on Yemen's state news agency's website.

On a statement on the website, Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said that a cease-fire agreement was reached with the aim to "lift checkpoints, barricades and open schools ... to return normal life to the capital."

But late into Tuesday evening, troops were still firing into crowds of protesting civilians.

"It's not clear that that has been completely enforced on either side since then, but we do consider it a good step," Nuland told reporters. "There is still some fighting going on."

The protesters marched through the streets surrounding Change Square, a central intersection where the uprising against Saleh started in February.

"The people want to prosecute the butcher," the protesters chanted, and some held posters saying that after the death of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, it was time for Saleh to "listen to your people."

The shooting broke out between Saleh's forces and renegade troops loyal to Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who defected to the opposition and whose forces protect the protesters.

There were concerns that the intensified fighting could undermine U.S. and Saudi efforts to fight Yemen's al-Qaida branch, considered by the U.S. to be the most dangerous of the terror network's affiliates after it plotted two failed attacks on American soil in recent years.

Also Tuesday, a Yemeni military plane crashed before landing at the al-Ammad air base near the southern city of Aden.

Four people on board were killed and 11 injured, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. The official said a technical problem might have caused the crash. He said there were eight Syrians and seven Yemenis on board.