Pressure on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign intensified yesterday when the leaders of two of the nation’s most important tribes abandoned him and joined the anti-regime movement.
The news came as an official denied reports that police killed four people on Friday in an assault on an anti-government protest in Aden, blaming a southern secessionist group for the attack.
Powerful tribal leaders, including those of the Hashid and Baqil, pledged to join protests against Saleh at a gathering north of the capital, a tribal source said.
“I have announced my resignation from the General People’s Congress in protest at the repression of peaceful demonstrators in Sana’a, Taez and Aden,” Hashid tribal chief Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah al-Ahmar was quoted as saying, in reference to the ruling party.
The Hashids are considered Yemen’s most powerful tribal confederation and include nine clans, among them the Sanhan, long a bulwark of Saleh’s regime.
The announcement was warmly received by a large crowd of tribesmen, including members of Yemen’s second-largest tribe, the Baqil, who gathered for the meeting, according to the tribal source.
The two tribes announced they would support the popular uprising against Saleh, who has refused to step down after three decades in power, to chants of “the people want the fall of the regime.”
According to an Agence-France Presse tally based on reports by medics and witnesses, at least 19 people have been killed in almost daily clashes at anti-regime protests since they erupted on Feb. 16.
Medics said security forces used live ammunition on a demonstration in the southern city of Aden, which has seen the worst violence, bringing the death toll to four yesterday from just one rally with 40 others wounded.
They identified three of the dead as demonstrator Mohammed Ahmed Saleh, 17; Hael Walid, 21, and Salem Bashaj, an employee at the state electricity company who was shot outside his home.
A hospital official in Aden confirmed that a fourth protester had died of wounds sustained in the gunfire.
A Yemeni official yesterday denied reports of a police raid.