Yemeni security forces, including snipers, opened fire on thousands of anti-government protesters marching to the Cabinet building on Wednesday, killing at least six and injuring at least 40, medical officials and protesters said.
The protesters demanding the ouster of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh were marching from a main square in Sanaa toward the Cabinet headquarters when they came under fire from snipers on rooftops, plainclothes security forces, and soldiers with anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks, activists said. They said security forces also used water cannons and fired tear gas.
"The snipers were shooting at the people," said protester Talal al-Hamadi. "People rushed and some fell over each other. There was a stampede."
Yemen has been shaken by nearly three months of protests demanding Saleh's ouster; several top military commanders and ruling party officials have defected to the opposition. Saleh, in power for more than three decades, has rejected a regional mediation offer and intensified a crackdown that reportedly has killed more than 140 people.
Yemen _ the southern neighbor of Saudi Arabia _ faced crises even before the protests, plagued with widespread corruption, a weak central government, a Shiite rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and an active branch of al-Qaida operating in the back country.
After the gunfire in Sanaa, protesters took shelter in residential buildings and houses in side streets while security forces chased after them, Al-Hamadi said.
Later, tanks and armored vehicles were deployed in the main street leading to a square where thousands of protesters have been camping for days, protected by a pro-opposition military unit.
One of the demonstrators, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said protesters had used motorcycles to carry the injured to places where they could be treated _ in some cases being halted en route by plainclothes officers who took injured protesters to police vehicles.
A medical official from a clinic said two protesters were struck in the head by bullets and were in critical condition. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Other medical officials at Kuwait Hospital and the Hospital of Science and Technology reported taking in the bodies of six slain protesters.
Wednesday's march to the Cabinet building was part of protesters' plan to escalate their opposition movement by holding repeated protests in front of state institutions.
Tawakul Karman, a senior member of the main opposition party, Islah, said plans were developing for protest marches on the presidential palace in Sanaa, and other government buildings elsewhere, to press Saleh to step down.
In southern Yemeni city of Taiz, three protesters killed and four wounded when security forces opened fire on a rally, and demonstrators there took over an Oil Ministry building, according to Nouh al-Wafi, an activist in Taiz.
One protesters reportedly killed in the city of Damar, when protesters clashed with police.
In Aden, another southern city, demonstrators also set fire to tires in the streets as the city was paralyzed by a civil disobedience called by the opposition. Similar demonstrations took place in Hadramawt and Hodeida.