(REUTERS – September 24th) Government forces attacked an opposition protest camp in Sanaa overnight after President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemenfrom a three-month absence and at least 17 protesters and soldiers were killed, witnesses and protesters said today.
Hundreds fled from the midnight raid on the “Change Square” camp and mortar and sniper fire continued through the morning.
A Reuters correspondent saw flashes of light and loud explosions in the area, the heart of an uprising where thousands have camped for eight months calling for Saleh to quit power.
Protesters said the attacking forces included the elite Republican Guard and Central Security forces. Interior Minister Muttahar al-Masri however denied that a raid took place, blaming the gunfire on “extremists”.
Saleh, who went to neighbouring Saudi Arabia for medical treatment in June for wounds suffered in an assassination attempt, said he wanted a truce to end days of fighting in the capital. This would allow peace talks to take place, he said.
At least six protesters have been killed since last night, according to a doctor at a mosque converted into a field hospital. Also killed were 11 soldiers from the First Armoured Division, led by General Ali Mohsen who defected and sided with protesters, according to a source in the generals’ office.
Dozens of wounded streamed into makeshift clinics. Some of the bodies were badly mangled, a medic said.
Protesters in the opposition encampment on the 4-km stretch of avenue they have dubbed “Change Square” said some buildings and tents were on fire and that protesters had retreated by about half a kilometre.
Saleh’s reappearance raised questions over the future of the Arabian Peninsula state, which has been rocked since January by protests against his 33-year rule.
Protesters escalated their marches in Sanaa this week by entering territory controlled by state forces, triggering a battle between loyalist and pro-opposition troops. About 100 protesters were killed in five days of bloodshed.