Yemen's President on brink as army switches sides to join rebels

After Friday's massacre of 52 protesters, military is now lining up tanks to protect crowds calling for end of 32-year reign

Yemen's embattled President was hit by a wave of defections among his generals yesterday as tanks from rival factions took to the streets of the capital in a setback to his attempts to stay in power.

The regime vowed to counter any attempts at a coup after the country's top military commander switched sides and joined the protesters calling for end to the 32-year rule of Ali Saleh.

President Saleh appeared increasingly isolated after some ambassadors, religious and tribal leaders and sections of the military all turned on him. The military defections put more than 50 per cent of the military on the side of the rebellion.

Anti-government protesters based at Sana'a University were ecstatic to hear of the general's defection. Soldiers moved freely in and out of the protest camp, drinking tea, posing for photographs and receiving kisses from demonstrators who have camped there for more than a month demanding a change in regime.

The defections appeared to be in response to the regime's decision to use increased violence to fight protests against President Saleh's rule. Rooftop-based snipers loyal to the regime killed 52 protesters on Friday, prompting the President to sack his cabinet and declare a state of emergency.

The top commander, Major General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, a former close ally of the President, yesterday condemned the Saleh regime and declared his support for the revolution on behalf of the military. "Repressing peaceful demonstrators in public areas around the country has led to a cycle of crises which is getting more complicated each day and pushing the country toward s civil war," he said.

The general's forces on Sunday took up positions around a protest camp at Sana'a University. Once in position, he declared that his men would now protect the anti-government protesters from further attack. The general also sent tanks to the central bank and other strategic centres.

Following the defection, the Defence Minister, Mohammad Nasser Ali, claimed that the army still backed the President. "We will not allow an attempt at a coup against democracy and constitutional legitimacy, or violation of the security of the nation and citizens," he said.

An elite military force of Republican Guards led by the President's son and one-time heir apparent deployed tanks and armoured vehicles outside the presidential palace.

However, many feel that General Ali Muhsin's defection means the end of the Saleh regime. "There is a 60 per cent chance that this will become a bloodless coup," said one Yemeni government official.

Protesters were jubilant. "The army is with us. Praise God," said one, speaking on a stage at the university camp.

One soldier loyal to General Ali Muhsin guarding the protest camp wore a sash over his uniform that read: "For a better democratic society." Another rallied thousands of protesters, chanting: "Long live Yemen and long live the people's revolution."

Muhammad Qa'id, a 32-year-old unemployed teacher, said: "We welcome Ali Muhsin and his men to the revolution. They are not joining us as the army but simply as Yemenis joining hands with their brothers in revolution."

The defection forced a hasty reappraisal of General Ali Muhsin's role. The general's portrait had hung alongside photos and cartoons of President Saleh and other ruling party officials on the side of a tent and labelled: "criminals". Protesters yesterday scrambled to remove his picture from the line-up.

"If he wants to play a major part in a new Yemen, he can," said Adel al-Sarabi, one of the student organisers of the Sana'a University sit in.

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, yesterday became the first Western leader to call publicly for the President to stand down.

"We say this to Yemen, where the situation is worsening. We estimate today that the departure of President Saleh is unavoidable," he said.

David Cameron told Parliament yesterday that he was "extremely disturbed" by what was happening in Yemen. Western countries are concerned about the unrest in Yemen given the absence of a clear alternative leader and their view of the President as a bulwark against al-Qa'ida in the Arabian peninsula.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering