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Middle East

Yemen tribesmen clash with soldiers

Tribesmen loyal to Yemen's embattled president have clashed with a group of soldiers whose commander has sided with the opposition, leaving three tribesmen dead, according to tribal elders and military officials.

The fighting in a suburb of the capital Sanaa was the latest violence in weeks of turmoil in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh's military and police forces have cracked down on protesters demanding he step down after 32 years in power.

The clash erupted as a convoy of about 30 cars carrying armed tribesmen from Saleh's Sanhan tribe arrived at the headquarters of the 1st Armoured Division in western Sanaa to meet its commander, Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who had earlier joined the opposition.

Tribal members and army officers at the scene said Maj Gen al-Ahmar, who also hails from Saleh's tribe, met a tribal chief, Ismail Abu Hurriya, who tried to persuade the renegade commander to return to the president's camp.

It was unclear how the shooting started at the gate of the army compound. Several tribesmen were also wounded by the gunfire, witnesses said. Some said a group of government supporters appeared at the scene and opened fire but the reports could not be immediately clarified.

Security officials said the visit was an attempt by Saleh to mediate with Maj Gen al-Ahmar.

Saleh's office said in a statement earlier that the president had met some leaders of his tribe to discuss the tensions.

The powerful Sanhan tribe is split between those remaining loyal to Saleh and those who have crossed over to the opposition. The tribe is also affiliated with the Hashid, the country's biggest and most powerful tribe, which has sided with the opposition.

Maj Gen al-Ahmar's troops have stationed themselves close to the central square near Sanaa University to protect thousands of anti-Saleh protesters who have been camping for weeks, refusing to give up their protest until Saleh leaves office.

Meanwhile, Yemen's opposition parties urged the international community, regional powers and human rights groups to help stop the bloodshed in the country. More than 120 people have been killed and 5,000 injured since Yemen's protests started on February 11, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The parties issued a statement accusing Saleh, his sons and relatives, as well as security and military apparatuses they control, of carrying out planned attacks against peaceful demonstrations with the intent to kill.

Saleh has clung to power, saying Yemen will sink into chaos if he goes.

In Taiz, dozens of protesters were treated for breathing problems after police fired tear gas as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for a third consecutive day to press for Saleh's removal.

On Monday, at least 15 people were killed when military forces and police snipers opened fire on the demonstrators who marched past the governor's headquarters in Taiz.