SANAA, Yemen – Fresh clashes in southern Yemen killed 17 al-Qaida militants and six government troops, as thousands rallied Wednesday in the country's capital demanding the new president speed up reforms in the military to purge it of old regime loyalists.
Meanwhile, two civilians died when their car, which military and security officials said was rigged by al-Qaida militants, exploded in the southern port city of Aden.
In the capital Sanaa, some 10,000 protesters marched in the streets urging President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi speed up military reforms and prosecute his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The crowd chanted angrily that Saleh's fate will be like that of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in connection to killings of protesters in Egypt last year.
"Your fate will be like Mubarak's," the protesters chanted on Change Square, which has been the epicenter of Yemen's uprising, similar to Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Saleh stepped down after millions of Yemenis took to the streets last year, demanding the longtime ruler leave power.
Al-Qaida exploited the country's political turmoil and security vacuum amid the uprising against Saleh, gaining significant ground in the south. A military offensive in the past weeks has tried to uproot the militants from their hideouts.
Fierce battles have continued in the southern city of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan that al-Qaida seized last year. Military and medical officials said the fighting continued overnight and early Wednesday, leaving 17 militants and six soldiers dead. The clashes were among the fiercest since the military launched the campaign against the terror network on May 12. The army claims it is now in control of almost 90 percent of Zinjibar but is still fighting al-Qaida in the northern part of the city.
In Aden, officials said militants planted explosives in a car of a man they suspected of being a government informer. The blast killed him and his traveling companion, and wounded a third man. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the injured man was taken to hospital.
Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the movement's most dangerous offshoots, and the U.S. considers the impoverished country as a key battleground in the war against al-Qaida. The United States has thrown its support behind the new leader, Hadi, who has vowed to combat al-Qaida as a top priority.