Breakaway Yemeni army units called on Sunday for other elements of the military to back them and pro-reform protesters seeking the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade-long reign in the troubled country.
Saleh’s rule was dealt a heavy blow when several generals and government officials began abandoning him in March after a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
“We call on you not to follow orders to confront other army units or the people," the army units said in a statement read by General Abdullah Ali Aleiwa, a former defence minister.
The statement also accused the government of allowing “saboteurs and terrorists” to take over in southern provinces, after reports that al Qaeda gunmen and Islamic militants had seized Zinjibar, centre of the coastal Abyan province.
Nearly 300 Yemenis have been killed in the protests, born out of the Arab Spring movement that led to the downfall of the long-standing rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.
Economic hardship was part of the impetus that drove tens of thousands to take to the streets — some 40% of Yemen’s 23 million people live on less than $2 a day and one third face chronic hunger.