SANAA - Huge crowds gathered in Sanaa before Friday prayers to demand the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who deployed armored vehicles and hundreds of troops on the streets of the Yemeni capital.
Yemen, facing the near-collapse of a Gulf Arab plan agreed with formal opposition parties to lever Saleh out of office, is close to economic disaster, its oil minister said.
Witnesses said military academy students with batons had joined the soldiers facing a vast throng of demonstrators stretching seven km (four miles) down a main street in Sanaa. Flag-waving Saleh supporters assembled in another district.
Gunfire erupted in Taiz, Yemen's third city, when security forces tried to bar protesters from going to a main street to perform prayers there on what they call a "Friday of Decision". Saleh supporters were calling it a "Friday of Unity".