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Yemeni troops loyal to president battle pro-opposition soldiers in capital, killing 11
SANAA, Yemen (AP) ' A Yemeni pro-opposition officer says troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh are attacking soldiers who sided with the opposition in the capital Sanaa, killing at least 11.
Abdel-Ghani al-Shimiri says mortars are raining down on the headquarters of the 1st Armored Division, led by Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar who backs the opposition's demands for Saleh's ouster.
He says the shelling has also wounded 112 pro-opposition soldiers.
Al-Shimiri says government forces are also moving to clear the opposition encampment on Change Square, which has been the epicenter of Yemen's uprising. He says street battles are raging Saturday between rival groups of the military.
Earlier in the day, 16 people died as government forces attacked the protest camp at the square.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
SANAA, Yemen (AP) ' Yemeni government forces and snipers attacked an opposition protest camp in the capital Sanaa early Saturday, killing at least 16 people, a medical official said.
The latest bloodshed came a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh suddenly returned to Yemen after more than three months of being treated in Saudi Arabia following an assassination attempt on him in June. Saleh's return on Friday apparently aimed to ensure his grip on power as his loyalists and opponents wage urban warfare in the capital.
The bloodshed also reinforced fears that the embattled president's return could escalate the fighting into a full-fledged attempt to crush his rivals.
Medic Mohammed al-Qabatis said that shortly after midnight, troops loyal to Saleh tried to storm the protesters' encampment on Change Square, which has been epicenter of Yemen's uprising and daily sit-ins demanding the longtime rulers' ouster.
Al-Qabatis, who works at a field hospital set up in the camp, said the dead included 15 civilians and one soldier who had joined the opposition movement. He says 54 people were also wounded in the attack.
Meanwhile, Yemen's interior minister, Gen. Mouthar al-Masri, told reporters on Saturday that eight government troops were killed and dozens of others were wounded. Al-Masri didn't elaborate when or how they were killed, and it wasn't clear if he was referring to violence in Sanaa or elsewhere.
Fighting had intensified in Sanaa earlier on Friday night as government forces in armored vehicles closed in on the thousands in Change Square, which had already been under heavy bombardment by mortar shells throughout the day.
In the early hours Saturday, Republican Guard forces led by Saleh's son Ahmed, used automatic weapons and anti-aircraft guns while trying to storm the square, where thousands of protesters searched for cover in the nearby buildings. Witnesses say several houses were wrecked when hit by mortars.
The Guard waged gunbattles with an army unit that defected months ago and is guarding the protesters at the square, witnesses said.
In Sanaa's district of Hassaba, 18 tribal fighters were killed over the past two days in clashes with government forces, according to a statement from tribal leaders on Saturday. Hassaba is home of Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation, the Hashid, led by Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar.
Saleh's return had caught the White House off guard. U.S. officials conceded it was a surprise and said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn't warned of Saleh's plans when she met Tuesday in New York with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, which has been working with Washington and Yemen to try to arrange a transfer of power.
Saleh's return could be a significant blow to those attempts. A degree of stability in the strategic but impoverished Arab nation is a priority for the United States, which wants a partner to continue the fight against one of al-Qaida's most active branches, based in Yemen and accused of plotting attacks in the U.S. Islamic militants have already exploited months of turmoil to seize control of cities in southern Yemen.
Yemen's turmoil began in February as the unrest spreading throughout the Arab world set off largely peaceful protests in this deeply unstable corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Saleh's government responded with a heavy crackdown, with hundreds killed and thousands wounded so far.
More than 100 people have been killed in this week's violence in Yemen, mostly protesters in Sanna as regime troops hit their gathering with shelling or barrages of sniper fire from rooftops. Residents have been forced to hunker down in their homes or flee the city as the two sides exchanged bombardment over Sanaa from strongholds in the surrounding hills.