SANAA: Yemen’s capital turned into a bloodbath with at least 32 people killed as regime loyalists on Friday raked pro-democracy protesters with bullets, in the deadliest clash in nearly a month of unrest, medics said.
Witnesses said pro-Saleh "thugs" opened fire on protesters from rooftops around a square at Sanaa University, after demonstrators attempted to dismantle a barricade.
At least 32 people were killed and more than 200 wounded, shooting the death toll up to more than 70 since the outbreak of demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule.
Yemeni parliamentary opposition spokesman Mohammed Al-Sabri accused the regime of a "massacre" and said "these killings will not help keep Ali Abdullah Saleh in power."
Thousands of people have camped out in the square since February 21, demanding the departure of Saleh, an autocratic US ally in the war against Al-Qaeda who has been in power since 1978.
In the southern city of Aden, a hotbed of unrest even before the protests, tens of thousands of people on Friday attended the funeral of a protester who was killed earlier this week, witnesses said.
"Ali you killer, Ali you slaughterer," their banners read. Mourners chanted: "The people want to overthrow the regime."
Police fired warning shots but there were no reports of clashes.
Dozens of people have been killed and many more wounded in clashes around the country since March 10, when Saleh promised to protect protesters from violence and offered to devolve power to parliament under a new constitution.
The United States, which sees Saleh as a pillar of stability in a fragile nation, welcomed the gesture, but Yemen’s parliamentary opposition says the president has lost all credibility and must resign this year.
On Thursday, at least 20 people were wounded and about 200 suffered from tear-gas inhalation when anti-regime protesters clashed with loyalists and police in Sanaa and the city of Taez, medics and witnesses said.
Masked men wielding guns, clubs and daggers attacked the Sanaa University protesters, wounding five, on Wednesday.
The parliamentary opposition accused Salah’s regime of committing "crimes against humanity," including with the use of "toxic gases" against the protesters.
"President Saleh’s son and his nephews who control the Republican Guard Forces and the national security forces (are) responsible for these crimes," it said in a statement on Wednesday.
The beleaguered Saleh last week promised to hold a referendum on a new constitution "clearly stipulating the separation of powers" between the president and the parliament.
The new charter would "install a parliamentary regime giving all executive powers to a government elected by parliament," he added.
Within an hour of the announcement, an opposition spokesman rejected the promised reforms as "too late," signaling that the political unrest would continue.
Yemen is a US ally in the war against Al-Qaeda, and has also been fighting Shia rebels and a southern secessionist movement.
A Yemen-based outfit called "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" is considered the biggest threat to the US homeland, according to a State Department official.
The protests against Saleh’s regime have been inspired by similar popular uprisings since January that have ousted the longtime presidents of Egypt and Tunisia.
Yemen is the poorest country on the Arab peninsula, although it produces some 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day.