Image: Anti-government protest in Yemen
AFP - Getty Images
Anti-government protesters mark the "Friday of no return" in Sanaa, Yemen.
updated 3/11/2011 1:45:09 PM ET 2011-03-11T18:45:09

Yemeni security forces opened fire Friday on demonstrators trying to rip down photographs of the president and at least six were hurt as the biggest protests in a month of unrest rocked the country in a massive call for regime change.

Protesters ripped down, burned and stomped portraits of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the town of Sheik Uthman, next to the southern port city of Aden, witnesses said.

Security forces hurled tear gas into crowds close to a football stadium, and then opened fire, using machine guns mounted on vehicles, said eyewitness Sind Abdullah, 25.

Slideshow: Political unrest in Yemen (on this page)

It appeared the forces were mostly firing over the heads of demonstrators, who pushed and shoved in a panic to get away.

Witnesses said they saw several people lying on the ground when the tear gas cleared.

"When we heard the gunfire, I tried to flee. There was chaos and people fell on each other," Abdullah said.

One protester was seriously hurt, a medical official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

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Thousands of women participated in demonstrations in Yemen's conservative capital, Sanaa — a startling move in a deeply tribal society where women are expected to stay out of sight. Women have only began turning out any real numbers for the past week, and Friday's turnout was their biggest by far.

In a sign that the Yemeni government was trying to quell the demonstrations, the internet was slowed to a crawl and phone connections were spotty. But there was no other violence immediately reported as hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in towns in the country's four largest provinces.

Saleh, an ally in the Obama's administration's fight against al-Qaida, proposed on Thursday night that the government create a new constitution guaranteeing the independence of parliament and the judiciary.

That didn't stop protest organizers calling for large numbers to mark a month of demonstrations and tell their leader of 32 years that they rejected his offer and want him to go.

Slideshow: Yemen in the spotlight (on this page)

The demonstrators who have set up protest camps in many cities are seen as the most serious threats to an Arab government since popular revolutions toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

The demonstrators in the capital carried the body of a man killed by security forces in a protest on Wednesday and shouted "The martyr wants the regime to fall!"

Several thousand pro-Saleh demonstrators gathered in a nearby downtown square, shouting slogans in favor of the president's proposed reforms.

"There is no other way but dialogue," said Tarek al-Shami, a spokesman for Saleh's party.

Yemen was chaotic even before the demonstrations began, with a resurgent al-Qaida, a separatist movement in the south and a sporadic Shiite rebellion in the north vexing the government, which has little control outside major urban areas.

Assailants in a vehicle opened fire on soldiers in another part of the country Friday, killing four before speeding off.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: July

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  1. A man prepares the grave of Hassan al-Hora during his funeral at a cemetery in Sanaa, July 19. Fighting between government forces and opposition supporters erupted in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Monday, killing six people, among them al-Hora, opposition sources said. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a demonstration to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz, July 19. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A girl has ''will not leave'' written on her face during a rally to support Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa July 17. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Wednesday, July 13. (Mohammed Hamoud / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. An anti-government protester writes slogans on a wall using his own blood during a rally to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh at Tagheer square in Sanaa on July 13. The words read "In my blood I protect Yemen." (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Girls light candles as they attend a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz July 9. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A Yemeni anti-government protester displays bullets allegedly fired by supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration demanding Saleh’s ousting, in Sana'a, Yemen on July 8. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sit on stone pillars during a rally in support of President Saleh in Sana'a, Yemen, on July 8. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh staged rallies around his vacant palace Friday after their leader's first TV appearance since being injured in a blast last month and leaving for treatment in Saudi Arabia. (Mohammed Al-Sayaghi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A supporter of Saleh kisses his picture as his supporters celebrate in Sanaa on July 7 after he appeared on television for the first time since he was severely wounded in an assassination attempt. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Saleh delivers a speech from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on July 7, making his first public appearance since he was wounded in an attack on his palace in Sanaa in June. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Anti-government protesters join their hands and shout slogans demanding an end to the 32-year regime of President Saleh, in Sanaa on July 6. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A police vehicle is set ablaze during clashes between armed followers of the opposition and police in the southern city of Taiz on July 6. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A relative of victims of recent clashes talks to a member of the United Nations human rights investigation team, left, in Sanaa on July 5. The U.N. team arrived in Yemen last week to assess the situation in the country after months of unrest. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Women recite prayers during a rally to demand the ouster of President Saleh in the southern city of Taiz on July 1. Tens of thousands of Yemenis turned Friday prayers into rallies for and against Saleh, who is recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt in June. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Man prepares the grave of al-Hora during his funeral at a cemetery in Sanaa
    Suhaib Salem / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (14) Political unrest in Yemen - July
  2. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (39) Political unrest in Yemen - June
  3. Image: Anti-government protests in Yemen
    Wadia Mohammed / EPA
    Slideshow (59) Political unrest in Yemen - May
  4. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (25) Political unrest in Yemen - April
  5. Image: Tens of thousands of Yemenis take to the
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (67) Political unrest in Yemen - Earlier photos
  6. YEMEN
    Karim Ben Khelifa
    Slideshow (20) Yemen in the spotlight

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