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Thousands resume protests in Yemen

Tens of thousands of protesters have poured into the streets of Yemen's second largest city in the latest demonstrations against the long-serving president.

Two groups of protesters met up in the city centre where a general strike had closed shops and banks in what activists were calling the "Tsunami of Taiz" - the largest demonstration in this troubled southern city to date.

More than 120 people have been killed since Yemen's protests calling for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh began on February 11, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In Taiz alone, 16 people were killed on Monday when government forces opened fire on demonstrators.

The rising death toll across the country has helped inflame public opinion against the government and sent even more people flooding into the streets of the Arab world's most impoverished country.

Running out of food, water and oil, Yemen is wracked by a tribal rebellion in the north, a separatist movement in the south and the presence of an al Qaida affiliate operating in the remote mountainous hinterlands. Saleh has been a US ally in the fight against al Qaida, but there are signs he is losing American support.

Several cities in the country now host permanent "protest camps" in the main square, mimicking the two-week long Tahrir Square sit-in that brought down Egypt's president in February. On Friday, hundreds of thousands demonstrated against Saleh across the country.

The president has offered to step down at the end of this year if a transfer of power acceptable to him is reached, but the opposition fears that Saleh is stalling for time, in hopes that he can find a way to stay in power or hand control to one of his sons.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Yemen's neighbours Oman and Saudi Arabia, has offered to try to mediate a peace deal. The council invited Saleh to attend a mediation session in Saudi Arabia, and their representatives will meet the opposition later, but the protesters have rejected any attempts to hold talks with Saleh unless they involve his removal.

"The dialogue in Saudi Arabia doesn't achieve the minimum demands of the youth. Any dialogue that doesn't involve quick departure of Saleh is useless," said Majed al-Mazhaji, an activist and leading member of the opposition in the capital Sanaa.

Earlier, the opposition put forward a proposal in which Saleh would step down and hand his powers over to the vice president, who would then organise a process to rewrite the constitution and hold new elections.

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