SAN'A, Yemen – Tanks took to the streets of southern Yemen cities Tuesday to discourage rioting by disaffected youths and retired military officers over unfulfilled government promises to enlist them in the army, officials and eyewitnesses said.
Over the past three days, security forces arrested at least 120 former army officers and lawmakers believed to be leading demonstrations in the south, said a Yemeni official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to journalists.
Tanks moved in after six demonstrators were "seriously injured" during early morning clashes with police, witnesses reported.
The rioting underlined increasing tensions between northern and southern Yemen 14 years after a civil war. Northerners dominate the government and economy in this impoverished country of 22 million people, and protesters are largely former members of the defeated southern army.
Many southern soldiers fled into the mountainous hinterlands and into Saudi Arabia after the war and stayed for years, returning only when Yemen's government issued an amnesty and promised to readmit them to the army — a promise southerners say has not been kept.
Last week, 20,000 demonstrators gathered in the southern city of Dhalae, 135 miles south of the capital, San'a, to demand reforms and the reinstatement of southerners into the army.
On Sunday, rioters set fire to at least two police stations, burned military vehicles and tried to storm the state-owned bank in Dhalae, the Yemeni official said. He said at least nine demonstrators were injured.
On Tuesday morning, riot police fired in the air to disperse demonstrators and roads were sealed by tanks and barricades, turning southern cities into ghost towns, witnesses said. Protesters responded by blocking the highway to the port city of Aden, the witnesses said.
Similar demonstrations in September resulted in at least two dead.
The Yemeni Cabinet condemned the demonstrations Tuesday, saying in a statement that violence is "aimed at undermining security, spreading chaos and creating dissension."
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, is home to heavily armed tribes that barely acknowledge the authority of the central government. There is also a persistent Al Qaeda movement that has attacked and killed foreigners on several occasions.
On March 20, mortar shells meant for the U.S. Embassy in San'a exploded at a nearby girls' school, killing a security guard and wounding more than a dozen students.