Yemen leader accused of allowing Islamist takeover

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Hundreds of Islamic militants cemented control over a town in southern Yemen yesterday, even seizing army tanks, military officials said, while breakaway army units encouraged other military forces to switch their loyalties and join the uprising.

The growing number of defections in the military posed the most serious threat yet to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three-decade grip on his country.

A leader of the breakaway forces, Maj. Gen. Abdullah Ali Elewa, appealed to other units to join.

"Stand side by side with the courageous armed forces, Republican Guards and security officers who endorsed the peaceful popular youthful revolution and announced their support to stand up to the tyrants and corrupt, and unjust," he said.

Elewa, a former defense minister, was one of nine military officers who signed the statement, named "Statement Number One" in the style of a military regime, though the officers are not in power. The group included leaders of four of Yemen's five military divisions.

Saleh labeled them "traitors" and "war mongers."

"We understand the demands of the youth revolution, but we ask them first to get rid of those corrupt, agent and traitor elements who defected from the military," Saleh said in a statement.

Late Sunday, several explosions were heard in the capital Sanaa. Their origin was not known.

Also, witnesses in the southern city of Taiz said security forces attacked protesters camped out in the central square with rifles and water cannon in an attempt to clear the area. Doctors said 150 people were taken to hospitals with injuries. In an earlier clash in Taiz, six protesters were killed, activists and doctors said.