SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Security forces exchanged gunfire with protesters in southern Yemen during rallies Saturday calling for the region's secession, leaving at least four people dead, security officials said.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country to mark the anniversary of the capture of the southern port city Aden by forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh during the country's 1994 civil war, effectively ending the southerners' bid to secede.
South Yemen was a separate country before it merged with North Yemen under Saleh in 1990. Many in the south still complain of discrimination and unfair treatment by the government.
There were conflicting reports about how the violence at Saturday's rallies began.
In Aden, a security official said some demonstrators in the march opened fire on soldiers, prompting the government troops to return fire. Three marchers were killed and 17 wounded in the clashes, the official said.
Mohamed Ali Ahmed, a leading figure in the secessionist movement in southern Yemen, blamed members of the former regime and extremists who infiltrated the marches for starting the violence. He did not elaborate.
"We are sticking to peaceful means as a strategic way to reach our goals for freedom in the south and independence," Ahmed said.
Thousands also protested in the city of Sayoun in Hadramout province, where clashes killed one person and wounded three, a security official said.
Separately, security forces opened fire on protesters in Hadramaout's provincial capital of Mukalla. Protesters responded with fire bombs and rocks, a security official said. No casualties were reported.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with security regulations.
Other protests in the south Saturday were peaceful, despite the presence of the army supported by tanks and armored vehicles.
Thousands also took to the streets in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa to demand the government apologize for the 1994 civil war, saying that this could calm tensions.
Some of the demonstrators carried posters that read: "A demand to investigate the crimes of 1994 and return stolen property."