- (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
A powerful senior Yemeni general defected Monday and joined protesters in calling for the removal of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The change in loyalty by the military leader is a huge blow to Saleh, who has recently also lost the support of key diplomats, ministers, religious and tribal leaders in Yemen.
Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, who commands Yemen’s forces in the northwest, was joined by more than a dozen other senior military leaders who have also decided to support protesters and challenge Saleh’s 32-year rule.
“I declare on their (protesters) behalf our peaceful support for the youth revolution and that we are going to fulfill our complete duty in keeping the security and stability in the capital,” said Ahmar on Al Jazeera on Monday.
The powerful general noted that the country was being pushed to “the edge of civil war” as government forces violently crackdown on protesters.
Throngs of demonstrators celebrated news that General Ahmar was now on their side at the main square of the nation’s capital of Sanaa. They had been protesting a deadly shooting that left scores of people dead last week.
The incident that provoked the protest occurred Friday when plainclothes snipers shot dead over 40 people gathered for a sit-in at Sanaa University. The protesters alleged that the snipers worked for the government, a claim President Saleh vehemently denies.
Other high-level officials who have defected include Arab League representative Abdel-Malik Mansour and one of Yemen’s most influential tribal leaders, Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, according to The New York Times. Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Alsaidi, has also resigned in protest against the massacre against civilian protesters.
Nasr Taha Mustafa, a leading member of the ruling party and head of the state news agency, abandoned his post and party on Saturday. Two other prominent members of Saleh’s ruling party quit the same day. And on Friday, the tourism minister and the head of the party's foreign affairs committee resigned.
On Sunday, Yemen’s president dismissed his cabinet and declared a 30-day state of emergency.
Soldiers still loyal to the regime have positioned tanks around the capital including the presidential palace, defense ministry and central bank.
The Yemeni president vowed to defend his regime “with every drop of blood,” and promised to not seek another term of office in 2013. Saleh has survived separatist movements in the south, conflict with Shia tribesmen and pressures from the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
He has played a key role in U.S global war on terror and maintains cordial relations with oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
For weeks, anti-government demonstrators have demanded Saleh’s removal – inspired by mass protests that toppled leaders in both Egypt and Tunisia. In total, at least 70 people have died in the subsequent unrest, according to estimates.