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Yemen Crisis Grows, President Says People Behind Him

A Yemeni army officer holds up his AK-47 as he and other officers join anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Mar 21 2011

Yemen's defense minister says the military still backs President Ali Abdullah Saleh, even as the country's top army generals and tribal leaders abandon the government and side with protesters.

Defense Minister Mohammad Nasser Ahmed said Monday during a televised appearance that the armed forces will remain faithful to the president and attempt to counter any plots against what he called "democracy" and "constitutional legitimacy."

Earlier, another of Yemen's prominent generals -- Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar -- said he supported, in his words, the "peaceful revolution of the youth." Following the general's message, tanks deployed across the capital, Sana'a.

Meanwhile, President Saleh said the majority of the people are behind him, even as he faces continued international condemnation and deals with the aftermath of firing his entire Cabinet Sunday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the use of live ammunition by security forces and said the government has an obligation to protect civilians.

Leaders of the president's own tribe have joined calls for his resignation, while tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered Sunday for funerals of anti-government protesters shot dead by Saleh loyalists on Friday.

The mourners joined a mass funeral procession in the Yemeni capital for some of the 52 people killed when pro-Saleh gunmen opened fire near Sana'a University two days earlier. Yemen's government withdrew armed police from areas near the procession and replaced them with a largely unarmed force in an apparent bid to ease tensions.

The head of Mr. Saleh's Hashed tribe, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, issued a joint statement with prominent clerics late Saturday, holding the Yemeni president responsible for the killings of the protesters. They demanded that he resign the post he has held for 32 years.

Mr. Saleh has offered to hold a dialogue with the opposition on a new constitution and promised to step down at the end of his term in 2013. Opposition groups and activists have rejected those gestures.

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

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