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Fury at slur on protesting women

Security forces fired on anti-government protesters in Yemen's capital as hundreds of thousands of marchers packed cities to condemn the president and remarks he made against women taking part in rallies.

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

Meanwhile, representatives from Yemen's opposition held talks with regional mediators in the Saudi capital on Sunday to discuss a proposal by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) for ending the unrest in which Saleh would transfer power to his deputy.

The Yemeni opposition says nothing short of Saleh's immediate departure would end the unrest in the poor Gulf nation at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. The GCC proposal also offers the president immunity from prosecution, which the opposition rejected.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in Sanaa as marchers neared the office of the special forces, headed by Saleh's son. Witnesses said the forces fired live ammunition, and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, which included many women. Security agents chased protesters in side streets.

Mohammed el-Abahi, the head doctor at the protesters' field hospital, said at least 220 people were wounded, including 20 people hit by gunfire.

Witnesses said ambulances were prevented by security forces from reaching some of the wounded, many of whom were taken to a mosque.

A youth movement leading the anti-Salah protests called for mass demonstrations on Sunday, dubbed a day of "honour and dignity" that brought out a strong outpouring of women upset at the president's comments.

"He aimed to provoke families and the society," said Arwa Shaher, a female activist. "But it has only increased our resolve to pursue the people's demands to ensure that this man, who is losing his mind day by day, goes."

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

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