Armed men shot dead six Muslims and wounded 10 others knelt in prayer at a mosque in Yemen after a stormy debate about forthcoming elections, the first in the Arab country in a decade, witnesses said Thursday.
The attack Wednesday night at Dhibin, in Omran province, 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of the capital, sounded an early warning about the passions the February 20 municipal ballot could unleash.
After the debate among village elders broke up over candidates, several participants went to pray in the village mosque, witnesses told AFP.
Two gunmen burst in and opened fire on the faithful with automatic weapons.
"Seven of the wounded were hit in the head and are in a serious condition," said a hospital official in Sanaa, where they were being treated. "The chances of survival for most of them are small."
The two killers, both men from the village, fled after the massacre, a local tribal leader said, but refused to name them.
It was the first bloody incident linked to the municipal elections, the first since the north and south re-united in 1990, and for which official campaigning is not due to start until early February.
They are due to take place at the same time as a referendum to amend the constitution, which the opposition will try to block.
The five leading opposition parties, including the Socialist Party of former south Yemen, are to put forward joint candidates for the municipal ballot and together oppose the amendments, according to an internal document obtained by AFP.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh is behind the constitutional changes, which would extend his mandate to seven years from the current five years and prolong the four-year term of parliament to six years.
Saleh, in power since 1978, stands accused of trying to hold onto the presidency eternally. The changes would allow him to be re-elected once more.
The bill also includes increasing the number of members of the Shura or consultative council from 59 to 111, all appointed by the government.
Yemen is a largely tribal society where men carry weapons and armed clashes are a common occurrence.
According to the Interior Ministry there are 60 million guns in circulation in the country, or more than three per inhabitant.
The government has battled largely unsuccessfully since 1995 to collect the weapons mainly from tribes who are behind the numerous kidnapping of foreigners -- SANAA (AFP)