Yemeni security forces opened fire Friday on demonstrators trying to rip down photographs of the president and at least six were hurt as the biggest protests in a month of unrest rocked the country in a massive call for regime change.
Protesters ripped down, burned and stomped portraits of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the town of Sheik Uthman, next to the southern port city of Aden, witnesses said.
Security forces hurled tear gas into crowds close to a football stadium, and then opened fire, using machine guns mounted on vehicles, said eyewitness Sind Abdullah, 25.
It appeared the forces were mostly firing over the heads of demonstrators, who pushed and shoved in a panic to get away.
Witnesses said they saw several people lying on the ground when the tear gas cleared.
"When we heard the gunfire, I tried to flee. There was chaos and people fell on each other," Abdullah said.
One protester was seriously hurt, a medical official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Thousands of women participated in demonstrations in Yemen's conservative capital, Sanaa _ a startling move in a deeply tribal society where women are expected to stay out of sight. Women have only began turning out any real numbers for the past week, and Friday's turnout was their biggest by far.
In a sign that the Yemeni government was trying to quell the demonstrations, the internet was slowed to a crawl and phone connections were spotty. But there was no other violence immediately reported as hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in towns in the country's four largest provinces.
Saleh, an ally in the Obama's administration's fight against al-Qaida, proposed on Thursday night that the government create a new constitution guaranteeing the independence of parliament and the judiciary.
That didn't stop protest organizers calling for large numbers to mark a month of demonstrations and tell their leader of 32 years that they rejected his offer and want him to go.
The demonstrators who have set up protest camps in many cities are seen as the most serious threats to an Arab government since popular revolutions toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
The demonstrators in the capital carried the body of a man killed by security forces in a protest on Wednesday and shouted "The martyr wants the regime to fall!"
Several thousand pro-Saleh demonstrators gathered in a nearby downtown square, shouting slogans in favor of the president's proposed reforms.
"There is no other way but dialogue," said Tarek al-Shami, a spokesman for Saleh's party.
Yemen was chaotic even before the demonstrations began, with a resurgent al-Qaida, a separatist movement in the south and a sporadic Shiite rebellion in the north vexing the government, which has little control outside major urban areas.
Assailants in a vehicle opened fire on soldiers in another part of the country Friday, killing four before speeding off.