By Mohamed Sudam and Cynthia Johnston
SANAA, March 21 (Reuters) – A top general threw his support behind protesters on Monday and warned Yemen could slip into civil war, after snipers shot dead dozens of demonstrators. General Ali Mohsen, a powerful figure close to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, expressed support for pro-democracy protesters but stopped short of resigning or demanding that Saleh bring his 32-year rule to an immediate end.
“We announce our peaceful support for the peaceful revolution of the youth and their demands and we carry out our duty … in ensuring security and stability in the capital,” Mohsen, commander of the northwest military zone, said on Al Jazeera television.
Friday’s killings of 52 anti-government protesters by rooftop snipers in Sanaa prompted Saleh to declare a state of emergency for 30 days that restricts freedom of movement and the right to gather and gives police more powers to make arrests. Saleh has said he will not run for reelection in 2013 and proposed political reforms including a new constitution in an effort to end weeks of protests. He fired his cabinet on Sunday.
“Yemen today faces a serious crisis … as a result of unconstitutional and illegal practices by the authorities, a policy of marginalisations and absence of justice,” Mohsen said. “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 civil war.”
Mohsen is a kinsman of Saleh from the influential al-Ahmar tribe, whose members hold many key positions in the state.
SALEH’S ALLIES BREAK RANKS
Two other generals announced their support for the protesters, according to Al Jazeera — Mohammed Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the eastern military section, and Hamid al-Qosheibi, commander of the Amran region.
Among other prominent officers voicing support for protesters was Abdullah Alaiwa, a former defence minister and adviser to the army staff, Al Jazeera said. The president has seen a string of allies break ranks with him in recent days and fired his government on Sunday, as he faced increasing pressure from street protests to step down.
Abdel-Wahhab Tawaf, Yemen’s ambassador to Syria, resigned on Monday from his post and from President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ruling party to support the opposition movement demanding Saleh’s ouster.
“I am resigning after the massacre that happened at the Taghyir (Change) Square,” Tawaf told Al Jazeera television. The deputy governor of Aden, a port city at the centre of a secessionist movement in south Yemen, and the deputy speaker of parliament were among others who expressed support on Monday for the protest movement. Mourners buried some of the protesters shot dead after Muslim Friday prayers in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, where tens of thousands of people have protested for weeks against Saleh’s three decade-old rule.
Western countries are concerned over the unrest since Yemen has been an ally against a wing of al Qaeda which has tried to
mount attacks against the United States and crucial oil producer Saudi Arabia. Yemen is seen as facing potential disintegration and
collapse of central control.
(Additional reporting by Martina Fuchs and Firouz Sedarat in
Dubai; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Andrew Roche)