Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Middle East

Yemen imposes emergency rule

Yemen brought in sweeping emergency laws today after the president asked for new powers of arrest, detention and censorship to crush the uprising demanding his removal.

The move escalates the showdown between Ali Abdullah Saleh and the movement that has unified military commanders, religious leaders and protesting youth in demands for his immediate departure.

The state of emergency suspends the constitution, allows media censorship, bars street protests and gives security forces 30 days of far--reaching powers to arrest and detain suspects without judicial process.

Youth leaders at the square that has become the epicentre of the protests dismissed the move.

"It is the revolution that now decides the future of the nation," said Jamal Anaam, one of the protest leaders. We pay no attention to the measures."

The accelerating conflict has raised fears that Yemen could be pushed into even greater instability.

Rival factions of the military have deployed tanks in the capital, Sanaa - with units commanded by one of Mr Saleh's son protecting the president's palace, and units loyal to a top dissident commander protecting the protesters.

The White House has been reluctant to weigh in on the situation in Yemen, except to urge an end to violence. The Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid choosing between an increasingly unpopular Mr Saleh and an opposition is does not fully understand and which could be hostile.

The adoption of the state of emergency was a virtual certainty because Mr Saleh's ruling party dominates the 301-seat legislature. Opposition and independent politicians stayed away from the parliamentary session along with dozens from Mr Saleh's own ruling party.

There was no breakdown available of the vote, which was done by a show of hands amid chaotic scenes. Some questioned whether the chamber had the necessary 151 members present when it voted.

Mr Saleh, who has worked closely with a US-offensive against the Yemeni branch of al Qaida, has already dramatically increased his crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, with his security forces shooting dead more than 40 protesters on Friday in Sanaa.

Yesterday he offered to step down by the year's end, but the opposition rejected his offer.

He also warned that the country would slide into civil war following the defection of senior army commanders to the opposition.

Tribal leaders, diplomats, politicians, provincial governors and newspaper editors have also joined the opposition.

The defection on Monday of commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a powerful regime insider who commands the army's powerful 1st Armoured Division, has been seen by many as a major turning point toward a potentially rapid end for Mr Saleh's rule. He is also a member of Mr Saleh's Hashid tribe.