SANAA (Reuters) - Eight people were killed in southern Yemen in two separate incidents on Sunday as U.S. President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism official met President Ali Abdullah Saleh to urge him to hand over power quickly.
Four militants and one soldier were killed in a clash in the town of Zinjibar in Abyan province, the September 26 government website said, without giving details.
In the city of Taiz, three civilians were killed early on Sunday when the Yemeni presidential guard shelled a house belonging to an anti-Saleh tribal chief, a medical source said.
Residents of the main southern city of Aden also reported clashes between security forces and militants.
In Riyadh, U.S. envoy Brennan brought a message from Obama to Saleh, who is recovering from serious injuries sustained in an attack on his presidential compound last month.
The United States until recently backed Saleh as a bulwark against regional instability and in particular against al Qaeda, whose active Yemeni cell said it was responsible for bombs put into U.S.-bound air freight last year.
But it has now made clear it thinks he should yield to a six-month-old popular uprising against his 33-year-rule.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement that Brennan called on Saleh quickly to fulfill a pledge to sign a Gulf-brokered deal for a peaceful handover.
"Mr. Brennan emphasized the importance of resolving the political crisis in Sanaa so that the Yemeni government and people can successfully confront the serious challenges they face, including the terrorist attacks carried out by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which have claimed the lives of hundreds of Yemeni citizens," Carney said.
He said Brennan had told Saleh that the United States was working closely with Yemen's allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Europe, and elsewhere to ensure that much-needed assistance would flow to Yemen as soon as the GCC proposal was signed and implemented.
The Yemeni government has said militants are taking advantage of Saleh's absence to step up operations in Abyan.
But opposition parties say the government has reduced security in Abyan to allow militants more sway and thus back up Saleh's argument that al Qaeda will gain a bigger foothold in Yemen if he is pushed out.
Also on Sunday, plainclothes police shot live bullets at hundreds of protesters demanding an end to Saleh's rule at the Red Sea port of Hudaida, activists and residents said.
At least 100 people were admitted to a local hospital, a medical source said. The police also fired tear gas grenades and attacked demonstrators with knives and clubs, witnesses said.
Human Rights Watch has accused the military of killing dozens of civilians in unlawful attacks while fighting militants.
In recent months, militants have seized two cities in Abyan, including its capital, Zinjibar.
Some 54,000 Yemenis have fled Abyan since then, a government official said this month.
In a recorded video aired on state television on Thursday, Saleh was defiant, saying he would "confront a challenge with a challenge."
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf and Mohammed Sudam; Writing by Nour Merza and Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Kevin Liffey)