A brigade of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's army has defected to the opposition in a southern province, the AP reports, in what is the first reported defection among the elite troops that have enabled Saleh to hold on to his power. A letter from the General Commander of the brigade demanding Saleh's ouster was read to thousands of protesters in the provincial capital of Damar on Sunday.
Yemeni soldiers who defected joined with anti-government protesters to shout slogans during the demonstration, as the dissident generals accused Saleh of surrendering the southern province of Abyan to "terrorists" and called for more troops to defect.
If this proves to be a harbinger of things to come for Saleh, it may be a way out of the civil war that seems inevitable as he defiantly holds on to his power. Many have hoped Yemen might achieve resolution through a peaceful process, but developments over the weekend looked to be a grim sign that the country is like a ticking bomb.
Despite the fact that a ceasefire was agreed upon in Yemeni capital Sanaa for Saturday, along with a resolution to withdraw troops from the city, violence continued in clashes between government forces and fighters loyal to Hashid tribal leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar. Sources told Al-Jazeera that explosions were heard in Sanaa throughout Saturday. The city was calmer Sunday morning, witnesses told CNN, but both sides insisted no deal had been reached. Additionally, the AFP is also reporting that three French aid workers have gone missing, and likely are kidnapped.
On Sunday came reports that about 300 Al-Qaeda fighters entered the southern coastal town of Zinjibar on Friday and took over "everything" in the area, as a resident informed Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera was unable to confirm this news because of media restrictions, but noted that many believe that this is just a ruse by Saleh to drum up fear in the West of impending chaos. Saleh has warned in the past that al-Qaeda could take over if he is forced out of office.
"This is one of the tricks the president is using to convince the west that al-Qaeda is spreading everywhere in Yemen," a source told Al Jazeera. However, other analysts have noted that the extreme poverty in Yemen -- where some 40 per cent of the country's 23 million people live on less than $2 per day -- could cause a failure of the state, enabling al-Qaeda to come in. And ruse or not, the invasion certainly promises more violent. Tarek al-Shami, an official at the ruling General People’s Congress, told Bloomberg that “the government is planning to launch a strike against them.”