Four shot dead in anti-Houthi protests in Yemen's Taiz

TAIZ (Reuters) - Soldiers and Houthi gunmen shot dead at least four people on Tuesday as demonstrators took to the streets of Taiz, central Yemen, to protest against the Houthi take-over of the city, medical officials and witnesses said.

The bloodshed took place as other Houthi forces advanced south from several directions on the port city of Aden, where President Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has set up base since fleeing the capital Sanaa last month.

Witnesses said Houthi gunmen along with soldiers loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in the city center and an outlying village.

Photographs posted on social media by activists showed youths dripping with blood being carried away by motorbike. Reuters could not immediately verify the images.

The protesters torched several cars in response to the shootings.

Hundreds of activists had set up a protest camp in the center of Taiz on Sunday when Houthi fighters and aligned army units seized the highland city, a move that encountered little military opposition but angered many residents.

Taiz is a bastion of opposition to Saleh, an ally of the Houthi movement, and played a role in 2011 Arab Spring protests that eventually led to his departure from power.

The Houthis, a Shi'ite Muslim group backed by Iran, swept down from their northern strongholds and captured Sanaa in September, and have since sought to extend their control beyond the capital, clashing with Sunni tribes and al Qaeda militants.

Taiz activist Bushra al-Maqtari wrote on Facebook page: "Today the Houthis poured all their hatred onto Taiz, the city which triumphed over oppression when Saleh's regime made war on it."

"There's a coalition of factions which are out for the blood of this city, and now the new war by the Houthis seeks to destroy the city to march on the South".

(Reporting by Anees Mahyub, Mohammed Mukhashef and Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan)