Rival tanks deployed in the streets of Yemen’s capital Monday after three senior army commanders defected to a movement calling for the ouster of the U.S.-backed president, leaving him with virtually no support among the country’s most powerful institutions.
Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army’s powerful 1st Armored Division, was the most senior of the three commanders to join the opposition. He announced his defection in a message delivered by a close aide to protest leaders at the Sanaa square that has become the epicenter of their movement.
Some of the tanks and armoured vehicles deployed in the Sanaa square where protesters have been camping out to call for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces opened fire from rooftops and killed more 40 demonstrators on Friday. Others were deployed at state TV, the Central Bank and the Defence Ministry.
Saleh, who has co-operated closely with a U.S.-backed offensive against his nation’s branch of al-Qaida, looked to be far closer to what analysts increasingly have called inevitable: a choice between stepping down after 32 years in power or waging a dramatically more violent campaign against his opponents.
A senior opposition leader said contacts were underway with the president over a peaceful way out of the ongoing crisis. One option under discussion, he said, was for Saleh to step down and a military council takes over from him to run the country till presidential and legislative elections are held.