Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime is coming under increasing pressure as senior army officials have began to defect to opposition parties.

Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar has stated that he is now backing the opposition to the Saleh regime and soldiers under his command have now started to protect the thousands of protesters in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

Al-Ahmar was joined by scores of officers under his charge, who also pledged allegiance to the anti-government movement in central Sanaa.

The brigadier general is one of several senior officials to withdraw support for President Saleh after 45 civilians were murdered by unidentified gunmen on 18 March in a square in central Sanaa.

Yemen’s ambassador to the UN, the ministers for human rights and tourism, the head of the state news agency. the Yemeni COnsul to Dubai, and the Yemeni ambassador to Lebanon have resigned and are understood to be backing the opposition (MEED 21:3:11).

The incumbent regime has also been dealt a further blow by the head of the Hashid tribal confederation, Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, stating that he is now supporting the anti-government protesters.

“Yemen is not the property of Ali Saleh or the Hashids,” the sheikh was reported by the New York Times as saying.

The president is a member of the Hashid tribal confederation and had counted on the group to give his presidency support in the tribal regions of Yemen. Now the Hashid’s are believed to be supporting General Ahmar as Saleh’s successor.

However, President Saleh has responded to Al-Ahmar’s defection by reiterating that he would not step down and would push ahead with elections later in the year.

Yemen’s National Defence Council, which controls the country’s armed forces, stated that they were still behind the president and would oppose any challenge to his authority.

“We will not allow under any circumstances an attempt at a coup against democracy and constitutional legitimacy, or violation of the security of the nation and citizens,” said a statement reported by Reuters.