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Death toll from Yemen explosion rises to 150

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Ammunition factory explodes in Yemen
  • NEW: The provincial governor blames al Qaeda for the blast
  • Officials say scores are dead and 85 people are injured, some critically
  • Witnesses report that half of those killed were women and children
  • The blast Monday comes after months of demonstrations in Yemen
  • Yemen

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- The death toll from an explosion Monday at an ammunition factory in southern Yemen has risen to 150, a government official and medical source said Tuesday.

Eighty-five people were injured in the blast in Abyan Province, some critically, said the official, who asked not to be named out of fears for his safety. Eyewitnesses reported that about half of those killed were women and children.

Security officials said Monday that most of the dead and injured were locals who had been ransacking the factory after it was taken over by militants Sunday.

The provincial governor on Tuesday blamed al Qaeda for the explosion, the nation's official news agency, Saba, reported.

At a meeting, Gov. Saleh al-Zawari "stressed the importance of cohesion and solidarity to stand together against these criminal and terrorist elements who try to hit the social peace in the governorate," Saba said.

The explosion took place after months of demonstrations targeting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as well as a weekend of clashes between government forces and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. People on both sides were killed, security forces said.

Protests were taking place Tuesday in 11 locations throughout the country, with the largest crowds estimated in Taiz province, followed by the capital, Sanaa, witnesses said. Smaller crowds were seen in the provinces of Aden, Hodieda, Abyan, Shabwa, Mahweet, Baitha, Dhamar, Lahj and Hajjah, according to witnesses.

"We will continue for days, weeks and even months if we have to," said Adel Qubati, a youth activist in Taiz. "President Saleh's tricks will only buy him more time, and we will assure that he leaves office in disgrace."

Another young activist, Nofel Abdul Moqni, said, "Every day we stay under the sun protesting makes us stronger."

Saleh has been fighting to hold onto power, arguing that he is best equipped to lead the fight against Islamists.

Yemen has been facing protests from people citing government corruption, a lack of political freedom, and high unemployment.

Calls for Saleh's ouster have increased in recent weeks following revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Saleh has ruled since 1978.

Saleh said Sunday he will not offer any more concessions, and he described the opposition as an alliance against the country's majority, according to Saba. Opposition leaders rejected the president's comments.

The country has been wracked by a Shiite Muslim uprising, a U.S.-aided crackdown on al Qaeda operatives, and a looming shortage of water.

Saleh has been a staunch U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The president has said he accepts opposition demands for constitutional reforms and holding parliamentary elections by the end of the year. Saleh has also promised not to run for president in the next round of elections.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom and journalist Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.

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