Military, diplomatic and other allies of Yemen’s embattled president are deserting him in droves, as pressure mounts on the veteran leader to quit.
Senior officers, ambassadors and some tribes are now backing anti-government protesters.
The televised announcement of defection by powerful army general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and his unit is a huge setback to President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Declaring peaceful support and solidarity with the revolution and its demands, the general said: “We will carry on with our duties in maintaining security and stability in the capital.”
With tanks deployed at key points in Sanaa, Yemen’s defence minister insisted the army backed Saleh and would defend him against any coup.
Snipers killed 52 anti-government protesters on Friday, prompting Saleh to sack his cabinet and declare a state of emergency.
The US embassy has urged its citizens in Yemen to stay indoors and France became the first major Western country to openly say Saleh must stand down.