They said three politicians from the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP), the ruling party in former south Yemen, were among those held in a dawn swoop of activists suspected of inciting the protests in the provinces of Aden, Lahj and Dhaleh.
The three are YSP central committee member Ali Mounassar, YSP lawmaker Nasser al-Khobbaji and party activist Hassan Baoum.
The arrests, confirmed by sources close to the Yemeni security authorities, followed protests on Sunday and Monday in the towns of Dhaleh and Habilayn.
The demonstrators, who briefly blocked the road linking Sanaa to the southern port of Aden with burning tyres, said a number of youths from the region were not admitted into the army after responding to a recruitment campaign.
In a statement on Tuesday, the YSP confirmed the arrest of some party stalwarts and accused the government of seeking to "terrorise leaders of the peaceful protest movement."
The statement urged the immediate release of all those detained, without saying how many were involved, and pledged that peaceful protests against government policies would continue.
The cabinet said after its weekly meeting that "subversive elements" had engaged in "acts of sabotage and rioting" in southern provinces, "attacking innocent citizens and damaging public property."
The government has "instructed security and judicial bodies to take deterrent legal measures against those stirring up riots and sedition," it said, adding that it would not tolerate actions aimed at "undermining security, national unity and social peace."
Security was boosted around vital facilities in the affected areas, where tensions were still running high on Tuesday, residents said.
Scattered protests broke out again in a number of cities, including Aden, witnesses said.
Several protests have been held in south Yemen in recent months to demand greater state aid for more than 60,000 people retired from the military and civil service, most of whom insist they were forced into early retirement.
Last Mod: 02 Nisan 2008, 16:34