Sana’a: Vast crowds took to the streets across Yemen on Friday to demand the immediate ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, instead of the phased handover of power envisaged by a Gulf Arab plan to be signed in two days.
But tens of thousands in a pro-Saleh rally also gathered in the capital to mark a "Friday of Constitutional Legitimacy”. Waving flags and pictures of the president, they shouted, "The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh”.
On Siteen Street, the largest road in the capital, 100,000 anti-government protesters flooded a 5-km (3-mile) stretch to mark a "Friday of Loyalty to the Martyrs." Around 142 protesters have been killed in three months of protests across Yemen.
"We will continue our revolution forcefully and we will not back down even if we have to offer a million martyrs," a cleric shouted to crowds, as they released balloons inscribed "Leave!."
The Gulf deal gives the President 30 days to step down.
Analysts worry that gives plenty of time for disgruntled forces from the old guard to stir trouble in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, where half the population owns a gun and al Qaeda has gained a foothold in its mountainous regions.
The United States and nearby top oil producer Saudi Arabia want the Yemen standoff resolved to avert chaos that could enable al Qaeda`s Yemen wing to operate more freely.
Suspected al Qaeda gunmen on motorbikes attacked a military checkpoint outside Zinjibar, in the flashpoint southern province of Abyan, a local official said, in the third attack by militants there in as many days.
A passing shepherd was killed and a child was wounded, he said, and two soldiers were hurt.
But it is protests, not militants, that have posed the gravest challenge to Saleh`s 32-year rule. He addressed his rally of supporters Friday saying: "These crowds of our people have said their word -- yes, yes to the legitimacy of the constitution, no to coups, no to chaos."
The fate of the deal to ease Saleh out of power could hang on how he handles the latest protests, with tension still high after the killing of 12 demonstrators in Sana’a on Wednesday.
On Friday, anti-Saleh protests ended in a funeral procession for those killed, as thousands of hands in the crowd passed along the wooden coffins toward their graves, shouting, "The martyr is God`s beloved."
"The people want the trial of the murderer," some anti-Saleh demonstrators shouted.