Yemeni military airstrikes on anti-government tribesmen killed seven civilians, medical officials said, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country on Tuesday to protest the latest attempt by their president to evade pressure to step down.
The attack in the mountainous region of Arhab is the latest by Republican Guards targeting tribes that support the protests.
Tribes in Arhab have announced an alliance with the protesters and are trying to prevent forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh from controlling the area. The government claims the tribesmen are linked to al Qaida.
Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 33 years, has maintained his grip on power though he is in Saudi Arabia, recuperating from wounds sustained in a June attack on his compound in the capital Sanaa.
Residents and medical officials say at least 60 people have been killed in Arhab, north of Sanaa, in government attacks this year. The medical officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
In southern Yemen, the military, backed by support from the United States and Saudi Arabia, has used ground attacks and airstrikes in its fight against militants with suspected links to al-Qaida.
The government acknowledged Tuesday that an airstrike last week on Jaar, in Abyan province, killed seven civilians and 12 militants. The airstrikes destroyed a hospital, school, two mosques and residential buildings.
The battles in Arhab and Abyan have forced thousands of residents to flee their homes.
On Tuesday, the UN called for an inquiry into the government's use of lethal force against protesters.
A team of officials from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called Tuesday for an international probe into the killings of hundreds of Yemeni protesters earlier this year, saying they were "met with excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by the state".
According to a Gulf-brokered deal that would have the president transfer powers to his vice president, Saleh would be guaranteed immunity from investigations into the use of lethal force against protesters.
Saleh has come close to signing several times, only to back away at the last minute, infuriating his opponents.
Protests Tuesday took place under the slogan: "No deal, no maneuvering, the president should leave.''
Saleh authorized his vice president to negotiate with the opposition on his behalf and sign a deal to transfer executive powers to him. However, Saleh retained the right to reject the deal in the end. The opposition charges that Saleh's agreement is a tactic aimed at stalling and not a genuine move toward turning over power.
This prompted Yemen's Student Union and university professors to defy a call by the Education Ministry to resume classes, saying they would continue anti-Saleh protests instead .
Thousands of Yemenis also took part Tuesday in the funeral procession of an influential tribal chief's son, who was assassinated Monday in Sanaa by masked gunmen still at large.
The tribal chief had recruited youth in the fight against al-Qaida-linked militants, who overran parts of southern Yemen in April and May.
Military officials said militants attacked government forces in the southern city of Zinjibar, killing three soldiers and wounding five on Tuesday.
The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Witnesses say militants still control the center of Zinjibar, in Abyan province, and that the military is battling for control of eastern parts of the city.
Gov. Ahmed al-Majidi of Lahj province said militants have also established a presence in his area. Lahj is near Abyan in the south.
In a statement posted on militant online forums, al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula vowed to avenge the Jaar airstrike that killed civilians last week and destroyed two mosques. The statement denied its militants were killed.
"The holy warriors stress that they will not let these crimes go without punishment," the statement said.
The United States views al-Qaida's branch in Yemen as one of the most dangerous, holding its members responsible for a failed attempt to blow up a US airliner bound for Detroit in December 2009.