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Yemen Ruling Party Defectors Form Opposition Bloc

Anti-government protesters chant slogans next to burning tires during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Taiz, Yemen, April 18, 2011

Several key figures and lawmakers from Yemen's ruling elite have broken with embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, forming their own opposition party to support anti-government protests demanding his ouster.

The new Justice and Development Bloc issued a statement Monday demanding an end to Mr. Saleh's 32-year rule and opposing the suppression of street protests.

U.S.-educated Mohammed Abulahoum, a leader of the powerful Bakeel tribe - which is Yemen's second-largest - is among the founding members. The new party also includes former ruling party ministers for tourism, human rights and transport, and a number of parliamentarians.

They are joining a group of key figures in the military, powerful tribes, ambassadors, provincial governors and some media managers who already have deserted President Saleh.

Also Monday, at least 80 people were wounded in the Red Sea port of al-Hudaydah when security forces fired on protesters demanding Saleh's ouster. Residents say plainclothes police fired live ammunition, while other security officials used clubs and tear gas against demonstrators, who responded by hurling stones.

A high-level delegation from Yemen's ruling party is set to meet Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates with mediators from the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Opposition leaders met Council foreign ministers in Saudi Arabia Sunday without any breakthrough.

Diplomatic efforts to secure Saleh's resignation have stalled. The Yemeni president has indicated he is willing to step down in an orderly transition, but the opposition wants his immediate departure.

On Sunday, security forces fired on anti-government protesters in the capital, Sana'a, wounding at least 30 people. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated across the country.

Violence between pro-Saleh forces and opposition activists has killed more than 116 people since protests began in late January.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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