Image: A female anti-government protester holds up a poster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
A female anti-government protester holds up a poster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh with a shoe stuck onto it, a symbolic cultural insult, during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday, April 17. Yemen's anti-government movement took up the issue of women's rights in the conservative Muslim nation on Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators seeking the ousting of the president denounced his comments against the participation of women in protest rallies.
updated 4/17/2011 1:26:00 PM ET 2011-04-17T17:26:00

Security forces fired on anti-government protesters in Yemen's capital Sunday as hundreds of thousands of marchers — including many women — packed cities around the country to denounce the president and remarks he made against women taking part in rallies demanding his ouster.

The massive turnout suggests opposition forces have been able to tap into fresh outrage against Ali Abdullah Saleh after his comments Friday that mingling of men and women at protests violated Islamic law.

A youth movement leading the anti-Salah protests called for mass demonstrations Sunday, dubbed a day of "honor and dignity" that brought out a strong outpouring of women.

A young woman first led anti-Saleh demonstrations on a university campus in late January, but women didn't begin taking part in large numbers until early March. It was a startling step in a nation with deeply conservative social and Islamic traditions.

But Saleh has clung to power despite the near-daily protests and defections by key allies in the military, powerful tribes and diplomatic corps amid calls to fight poverty and open up the country's restricted political life.

Security forces have launched fierce attacks on anti-government marches to try to protect Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule over the impoverished and fragile nation in the southern corner of the Arabian peninsula.

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In the capital, Sanaa, authorities opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas, witnesses said. Mohammed el-Abahi, the head doctor at the protesters' field hospital, said at least 30 people were wounded, including two people hit by bullets.

In the southern city of Damar, at least 18 people were injured in clashes with police and security agents after they fired tear gas, said medical officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of backlash from authorities. An activist in the city, Abdul Rahman Ahmed, said shots were heard but it was unclear whether it was rubber bullets or live ammunition.

Elsewhere, more than 100,000 people took to the streets in Taiz, a hotbed of protests, and large demonstrations were mounted in the port of Aden and other cities.

Abdel-Malek al-Youssefi, an activist and organizer with the youth movement, said the latest protest wave could well be "the last nail in Saleh's coffin."

Many Yemeni women remain out of sight and conceal themselves in public under black head-to-toe robes. The issue of child brides in Yemen has also drawn international criticism. But unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia, women in Yemen are permitted to vote, run for parliament and drive cars.

Advocacy for women's rights in Yemen is rooted in the 1967-1990 period when the once-independent south had a socialist government. After unification, women in the south became more marginalized, resulting in high unemployment among female university graduates.

A crackdown on protesters by Saleh's forces has killed more than 120 people, according to Yemeni rights groups, but has not deterred crowds from gathering.

Meanwhile, representatives from Yemen's opposition were expected in the Saudi capital Sunday to explain their position to Riyadh and other Gulf mediators. Last week, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council offered a proposal for ending the unrest in which Saleh would transfer power to his deputy.

The opposition criticized the proposal for not including a call for the power transfer to happen immediately. The GCC proposal also offered immunity to Saleh from prosecution, which the opposition rejected.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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