Security forces in Yemen killed at least 20 protesters when they crushed a demonstration in the southern city of Taiz, protest organizers said.
The peaceful sit-in demonstration at the city’s Freedom Square had continued for four months and was one of the longest-running protests against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The violence began late Sunday outside a police station near the protest site, where some 3,000 people had gathered to demand the release of detained protesters. Police fired warning shots into the air and then fired into the crowd when the demonstrators refused to leave, Agence France-Presse reports.
Forces loyal to Saleh, including security service agents, the army and Republican Guards, then moved in to clear the square, and began setting fire to demonstrators’ tents. There were reports of bulldozers being used to destroy some of the tents.
Hundreds of people were rounded up, with security forces chasing protesters into nearby streets as they tried to escape, AFP reports. Soldiers reportedly entered a field hospital and detained 37 wounded people who had been receiving treatment.
The Yemen Post reports that at least 50 protesters were killed in Taiz, including some who burned to death in their tents.
"This was a massacre. The situation is miserable. They have dragged the wounded off to detention centers from the streets," activist Bushra al-Maktari told AFP.
Maktari told Bloomberg that Freedom Square is "all ruins and smoke is rising all over the place."
A government spokesman said the reports of deaths of protesters had been “exaggerated.”
More than 200 demonstrators have been killed in Yemen since protests against Saleh’s rule began in January. Many more people have died in clashes between loyalist troops and opposition tribesmen.
The opposition coalition Common Forum condemned the "crimes against humanity" committed by Saleh's "remaining military and security forces and armed militias."
It warned Saleh that he would be "held personally responsible for his continued crimes against the people.”
"These crimes do not get forgotten with time," the forum said in a statement. "They are being monitored and documented, and those who have committed them, and who provided arms and money, will not escape justice."