Yemen's president said he had ordered his security services to protect protesters, stop all clashes and prevent direct confrontation between government supporters and opponents.
The directive came yesterday when security forces in the southern port of Aden used tear gas and fired bullets in the air to disperse hundreds of protesters, and government supporters wielding clubs attacked demonstrators in the capital Sanaa. Amnesty International said two people were killed in Sanaa, the first fatalities in the capital since unrest began about two weeks ago.
"This disturbing development indicates that the heavy-handed tactics which we have seen the security forces using with lethal effect against protesters in the south of Yemen are increasingly being employed elsewhere," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"If the authorities continue in this manner, more demonstrators will inevitably be killed." Yemen, an impoverished country with a weak central government and an active branch of al-Qaida, has been swept up in the protests inspired by successful uprising in Egypt and Tunisia.
The demonstrators are demanding that US-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 32 years, step down. But he has said he will step down after national elections in 2013.
"The Government of the Republic of Yemen will continue to protect the rights of its citizens to assemble peacefully and their right to freedom of expression," Saleh said in a statement issued by Yemen's Embassy in Washington.
Thousands streamed into a square in Sanaa yesterday to bolster anti-government protesters after club-wielding backers of Saleh tried to drive them out.
In the Red Sea port of Hodeida, Saleh supporters attacked a group of anti-government protesters injuring at least 10, according to activists who were taking part in the demonstration.
Security forces in the southern port of Aden used tear gas and fired bullets in the air to disperse hundreds of protesters, officials said. Seven legislators who belong to Saleh's ruling Congress Party resigned from the group because of the situation in the country and said they will form their own independent bloc, member of parliament Abdul-Aziz Jabbari said. The resignations raise to nine the number of legislators who left the party since protests began.