Washington: The United States has urged Yemen for "immediately" transition toward democracy as it called on all sides to halt violence after a week of unrest that saw nearly 200 people killed.

"We urge all parties to cease violence and exercise maximum restraint," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, expressing "deep concern" over the violence wracking the Gulf nation. "The Yemeni government must immediately address the democratic aspirations of its people."

Clashes that rocked the Yemeni capital earlier left dozens of people dead a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned from months of medical treatment in Riyadh carrying "the dove of peace."

More than 40 people were killed and hundreds of others were wounded, an activist from a committee organizing anti-regime protests said, as the death toll spiralled to 173 people over the past week.

A state news agency said 24 of Saleh's soldiers have also been killed.
   
Nuland said Washington supports the Gulf Cooperation Council's call for a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding civilian deaths. Arab Gulf foreign ministers have also urged Saleh to sign a GCC transition plan that has been on the table for months.
   
"Too many Yemenis have lost their lives and each day that passes without a peaceful and orderly transition is another day that the Yemeni people are forced to live in an unstable environment that threatens their security and livelihood," added Nuland.

 "We again urge President Saleh to initiate a full transfer of power without delay and arrange for presidential elections to be held before the end of the year within the framework of the GCC initiative."

The spokeswoman said "the Yemeni people have suffered enough and deserve a path toward a unified, stable, secure and democratic Yemen."

(Agencies)