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Protesters killed, hundreds wounded and arrested; media under fire in clashes

At least 20 Yemenis were killed as hundreds of soldiers descended on a protest camp in the southern city of Taiz on 29 May, firing at demonstrators, indiscriminately torching tents and detaining hundreds of people, reports the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). And in the midst of rising violence, both military forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and opposition and tribal gunmen are targeting media outlets in exchanges of gunfire, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

The crackdown reveals that Saleh is determined to hold onto power "despite the upheaval, intense international pressure to step aside and defections by key allies and some army units," reports "The Guardian". The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) estimates that at least 50 people were killed in Taiz. Forces used tanks and armored vehicles, bulldozing hundreds of tents, say news reports. Security forces also used a water cannon, tear gas and sound bombs, while tents were set on fire with injured protesters still inside. Thirty-seven injured people being treated in the field hospital were detained, reports ANHRI. Journalists were detained at a nearby hotel and snipers shot at protesters from the top of a building, say news reports.

"Yemeni authorities have used brutal and excessive force to stay in power against the will of the majority of Yemenis. They mistakenly believe that they are on the right track of defending their legitimacy, while on the contrary, the more they escalate crimes against civilians, the more they lose legitimacy…. by giving orders to shoot their own people," said ANHRI.

As fighting rages on this week in the capital, Sana'a, between troops loyal to Saleh and gunmen in support of an influential tribal leader, at least 41 people were killed on 1 June, say news reports. The week's clashes have already claimed 200 lives. Battles erupted after Saleh refused to sign an agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states requiring him to give up power within 30 days.

Meanwhile, journalists are also under siege as armed actors try to control the narrative. Fighting began on 23 May after military forces and plainclothes gunmen loyal to Saleh attacked military forces and tribal gunmen aligned with the influential tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar who joined the opposition in March. (Al-Ahmar and members of the tribe's leadership have been charged with "grand treason and armed rebellion", according to state-owned media.) Two days later, gunmen loyal to Saleh opened machine gun and mortar fire on the private satellite broadcaster Suhail TV. The station is owned by a member of the al-Ahmar family. The attack destroyed computers, cameras and archives, and two camera operators were injured. The director of photography was detained by security forces. An anchorman at the station told CPJ that "a sympathetic official at one of the security apparatuses told Suhail TV employees that snipers on surrounding rooftops had received orders to kill Suhail TV employees on sight."

In a separate fight last week, elements loyal to al-Ahmar and the opposition attacked the Saba news agency with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, report IFJ and CPJ. State-owned media reported three stories of the Saba building were destroyed and two journalists injured. Local journalists told CPJ that al-Ahmar's gunmen overran the Saba building after government snipers stationed on the rooftop kept firing on al-Ahmar's compound across the street, the headquarters of Suhail TV and Al-Sahwa Net. The attack went on for several hours and stopped only after the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), an IFJ affiliate, intervened and assured al-Ahmar's forces that there were no government soldiers on the premises. Two journalists were injured in the gunfire. YJS organised a solidarity march to condemn the attack.

On 21 May, editorial trainee Hasaan Saeed Hasaan was stabbed several times after he refused to allow a group of armed men into the locked offices of "Al-Oula", an independent daily in Sana'a, say Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and CPJ. YJS described it as an assassination attempt on the daily's editor-in-chief, Mohammed Ayash, as the armed attackers punched and kicked Hasaan, pointed a gun to his head, and demanded to be taken to Ayash's office. The attempted break in took place at 3 a.m., and Hasaan was saved by military police who heard his cries for help. In April, another staff journalist was beaten for reporting on anti-government protests in Taiz.

Twelve thousands copies of "Al-Oula" were confiscated at a government checkpoint at the entrance to the capital on 19 May. Recently, other independent and opposition dailies have been seized at checkpoints throughout the country.

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