Fresh defections latest blow to Yemen’s leader

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SANAA – Unrelenting anti-government protests and fresh defections among the ruling elite added to the pressure on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 32 years in power. Saleh, a US ally in the confrontation with al Qaeda, was asking for mediation from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, but there was no immediate response that might defuse the crisis. One opposition leader offered him the prospect of secure retirement if, like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he would go quietly.
Several generals and officials have abandoned Saleh this week after a massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators on Friday, as one of the most violent of the uprisings that have swept the Arab world has pushed his administration to breaking point. On Tuesday, Abdel-Malik Mansour, Yemen’s envoy to the Arab League, told Al Arabiya television he was siding with protesters. Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani, whom Saleh sacked as environment minister on Sunday along with the rest of the cabinet, said on Facebook he was joining “the revolutionaries”.
Promising never to seek office again, Iryani also said those going over to the side of the protesters should, like himself, be ready to be held accountable for their actions: “Members of the regime who are joining ought to hand themselves over for trial for crimes they committed against the people or ignored.” Defections have included generals, tribal leaders, diplomats and ministers. They have gained momentum since gunmen loyal to Saleh opened fire on demonstrators in the capital Sanaa on Friday. Fifty-two people were killed.
crowd of around 10,000 gathered outside Sanaa University in a rally that has been repeated for the past seven weeks. Echoing demands that have been satisfied in Tunisia and Egypt and continue to be heard elsewhere across the region, they chanted: “The people want the fall of regime”.