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Three hurt as Saleh loyalists, Yemen protesters clash

Washington to spend $75m on Yemen military training

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Pro-regime supporters on Tuesday waded into an anti-government protest in Sanaa with batons, sparking violent clashes in which three people were hurt, as Washington said it aims to spend $75 million to double the size of a special Yemeni counter-terrorism unit.

The loyalists were joined by plainclothes police wielding electric tasers, who sent the crowd of around 3,000 protesters, mostly students, fleeing, witnesses said, according to AFP.

Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the protesters had earlier poured out of Sanaa University for the fourth day straight day to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 32 years.

"The people want to oust the regime" the protesters chanted, repeating the slogan used by protesters in Egypt who forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down on the 18th day of mass protests.

As they advanced on Saleh's palace, supporters of his General People's Congress (GPC) party, armed with batons and stones, confronted the demonstrators, who responded by hurling stones.

The correspondent said that at least three protesters were wounded.

Demonstrators said "police with tasers" had joined the pro-Saleh supporters in dispersing the crowd.

International human rights watchdogs have criticized what they say is police violence, in particular the use of tasers, against peaceful protesters.

On Monday, rocks and batons flew in central Sanaa as the protesters -- mainly students and lawyers -- clashed violently with police and Saleh's supporters, witnesses said.

Clashes between police and thousands of protesters also broke out Monday in the city of Taez, south of Sanaa, leaving eight people wounded, witnesses there said.

Counter-terrorism

A U.S. official said late Monday that the United States aims to spend $75 million to double the size of a special Yemeni counter-terrorism unit.

The funding, which has yet to be approved by Congress, is part of a broader effort to increase pressure on al-Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Michael Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, told Congress last week he saw AQAP as the biggest current threat to the U.S. homeland.

The group has claimed responsibility for a failed Christmas Day attack in 2009 aboard a U.S. airliner and a more recent attempt last year to blow up two U.S.-bound cargo planes with toner cartridges packed with explosives.

The U.S. official said the funds would be invested in a special Yemeni counter-terrorism unit that is operated under Yemen's interior ministry and now totals around 300 people.

The funds are unrelated to another $120 million earmarked for Yemen in President Barack Obama's 2012 budget request unveiled on Monday. The request includes $35 million in additional military assistance for Yemen and $69 million in economic assistance.

Yemen's President Saleh is also under pressure to quash the resurgent al-Qaeda wing in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, at the same time as he struggles to control southern secessionists and to cement a fragile truce with rebels in the north.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress last week that Yemen's "myriad political, security, and development challenges" pose the greatest threat to that poor Arab nation since its 1994 civil war.