SANAA (AFP) - At least 16 people were killed and 30 wounded in shelling and gunfire during clashes on Thursday between government forces and armed activists at a separatist rally in south Yemen, witnesses said. According to unconfirmed reports the deputy chief of police was among those killed. The demonstration at Jinzibar, 50km east of the southern port of Aden, was called by Tarek al-Fadhli, an Islamist leader and former key ally of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Fadhli recently switched sides to support the secession of south Yemen from the north, they said. The clashes killed 16 people, including six policemen, and wounded 30 people, including 10 government forces, a separatist activist close to Fadhli who asked not to be identified told AFP. Witnesses earlier spoke of 12 dead and dozens wounded in the fighting. Fadhli had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan along with Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the 1980s and then helped Saleh crush southern separatists in 1994. The impoverished Arabian Peninsula country is the ancestral home of the Qaeda leader. Despite a security crackdown aimed at preventing Thursdays protest, Fadhli supporters and other armed elements were able to fire shells at the local police headquarters and other public buildings, a local official told AFP. The witnesses said soldiers fired live rounds to disperse the protesters and also shelled Fadhlis house in the town. Security forces deployed on roads to Jinzibar to prevent armed men from the mountain village of Yafaa to the north from joining Fadhlis supporters, leading to clashes between the fighters and the troops, the witnesses said. They also reported that phone lines in Jinzibar were cut for a time. The fighting subsided in the late afternoon but tension remained high, they said.