Almost 40 protesters were injured when police opened fire Monday to disperse demonstrations in Yemen, a strategic US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, officials said.
The violence came after eight people were killed in weekend clashes with security forces, sparking condemnation and calls for restraint from the United Nations and Western powers.
Twenty people demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 32 years, were injured when they tried to assault the government headquarters in Jawf, northeast of the capital Sanaa, an official said.
Security forces and pro-regime loyalists guarding the building opened fire. Two loyalists were injured by stones hurled by the protesters.
In Marib province, east of Sanaa, 17 protesters were injured in similar circumstances when security forces opened fire to prevent them storming the local government headquarters.
Some 40 people have been killed in political violence since unrest erupted in the deeply tribal country at the end of January, as pro-democracy revolts shook the Arab world.
As tensions in Yemen rose, three journalists and a researcher from Britain and the United States were abruptly deported on Monday. An airport official said they had all entered on tourist visas and were not entitled to work there.
Army set in
Saleh has made many verbal concessions to the protesters, promising to step down in 2013 and offering a new constitution giving more powers to parliament, but he has steadfastly refused his critics' main demand that he leave office immediately.
Soldiers and armored vehicles tried to cut off an area in the capital Sanaa, where around 20,000 anti-government supporters have been camped out for weeks.
"We're expecting an attack at any minute, but we're not leaving until the regime falls,” said protester Taha Qayed.
Crowds chanted: "Leave, leave you murderer."
Police fired in the air to try to break up tens of thousands of protesters in Taiz, 200 km (125 miles) south of capital Sanaa. Three were hurt, but protesters continued demonstrating.
Thousands were also protesting in al-Hawta, the regional capital of southern Lahej province, residents said.
"Al-Hawta is in a state of paralysis. The opposition has called for a general strike to protest at the repression of demonstrators," a resident told Reuters by phone.
He said all the markets were shuttered and that security forces were spread out around the city.
Elsewhere in the south, more than 10,000 people were also protesting in the flashpoint province of Dalea, where police have often clashed with armed secessionist groups, locals said.
Popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia have inspired this latest wave of unrest in Yemen, but the country was already seething with intermittent rebellions in the north and south.
As demonstrations gather steam across the country, a string of Saleh's allies have recently defected to the protesters, who are frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment. Some 40 percent of the population live on $2 a day or less in Yemen, and a third face chronic hunger.
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.