Breakaway Yemeni army units called 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, Reuters reports.
Aleiwa has acted as a spokesman for those in the military who have expressed support for the protesters.
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 percent of Yemen’s 23 million people live on less than $2 a day and one third face chronic hunger.
Saleh has refused to sign a Gulf-brokered deal that would have him step down and set up a peaceful transition of power.
Saleh’s security forces faced off against tribal groups in pitched street fighting in Sanaa in the past few days, clashes provoked by his refusal to sign the power-transfer deal.
His Republican Guard also fought tribesmen who have sided with the opposition in areas outside the capital, and tribal sources said some of the soldiers in southern Damar at the weekend joined the opposition.