ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - Security forces shot dead four men and wounded 18 at demonstrations by separatists in south Yemen on Saturday, protest leaders said, but officials said protesters had attacked security personnel and soldiers.
Three men were shot as they marched with several hundred protesters trying to get into a public square in the Mansoura district of the Arabian Sea port city of Aden, said Hussein Zaid bin Yahya, a leader of the Southern Movement.
Security forces and the army had tried to block the protesters' way near the square, bin Yahya said, adding nine people were wounded in the skirmish.
A security official said "armed elements in the march" had fired on security forces and the army. He could not confirm the deaths.
The march was held to commemorate the day in 1994 that government forces from Sanaa stormed Aden at the end of a brief civil war. Aden was the capital of the former South Yemen until unification in 1990.
Six other protesters were wounded in another district of Aden, bin Yayha said, and Saleh Yahya, a leading figure in the Southern Movement, was arrested.
In the town of Sai'oun in the southeastern region of Hadramaut, a man was shot dead and three others wounded when security forces attacked another demonstration marking the same occasion, a Southern Movement activist said.
A security source said security forces had taken action against protesters who attacked shops owned by northern Yemenis.
Yemen, an impoverished Arabian Peninsula state next to major shipping routes, has been in turmoil since an uprising against veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh began last year.
Saleh stepped down in February but the divisions remain.
The U.S.-backed government is battling al Qaeda-linked militants who have become entrenched in parts of the south in the past year and who have tried to use their foothold to stage attacks in Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The Defence Ministry said on Friday unidentified gunmen attacked a government building in Dalea province in the south with grenades and gunshots. It said security forces defused an explosive device in front of the tax authority building in Aden.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Janet Lawrence)