Tanks deploy in Yemen capital as top general defects

AFP , Monday 21 Mar 2011

Tanks were deployed outside the presidential palace in Yemen on Monday after a top general announced his allegiance to the protest movement seeking to oust President Ali Abdallah Saleh from power

Police troopers stand guard on a street leading to a rally demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa 19 March 2011. (Reuters)

Tanks took up positions in key locations across Sanaa including at the presidential palace, the central bank and the ministry of defence, an AFP correspondent saw.

The deployment came as General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, an armoured infantry division commander, announced that he had joined the "revolution" along with other senior officers.

"The crisis is getting more complicated and it's pushing the country towards and violence and civil war," he said in a statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera television.

"According to what I'm feeling, and according to the feelings of my partner commanders and soldiers... I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution.

"We are going to fulfil our duties in preserving security and stability."

Al-Ahmar is the most senior military officer to pledge support for the opposition, which has been agitating for weeks to end Saleh's 32-year rule over the impoverished, tribal country.

His pledge comes a day after Saleh sacked his cabinet in a bid to placate opposition calls for sweeping reforms.

The regime has already been weakened by the resignations of ministers, ambassadors and a host of ruling party MPs, but Saleh has refused to stand down until his term ends in 2013.

His regime was internationally condemned on Friday when more than 50 people were killed as loyalist gunmen opened fire on protesters in Sanaa's University Square, the centre of the pro-democracy movement.

The defection of top military officers to the opposition is likely to complicate Washington's support for Saleh, whom it sees as a pillar of stability in a volatile country and a partner in the war against Al-Qaeda.

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