When unidentified gunmen opened fire indiscriminately on anti-government protesters in a central square in Sanaa, killing 45 and injuring 270, the reaction from most Yemenis was that of complete revulsion.

While President Ali Abdullah Saleh denied any involvement the tragic events that unfolded on 18 March, it may be the beginning of the end for the beleaguered ruler.

Several leading officials from Saleh’s regime have now defected to the opposition, including Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar whose forces are now protecting protesters from further attacks.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the pillars supporting Saleh are now starting to crumble and that his regime is under increasing pressure to step down.  The only question remains is will Saleh listen to his people and go quietly?

The last thing Yemen needs is a bloody and prolonged civil war and hopefully common sense will prevail and Saleh will step aside quietly sooner rather than later.

If Saleh does go, it is also imperative that a strong interim government is in place can usher in elections and work towards a fully democratic system that gives all Yemenis a voice.  

Although Yemen is the Middle East’s most impoverished nation, it still has a vital role to play, especially in regards to the fight against terrorism. Civil war is just going to exacerbate the problems regarding Al-Qaeda operations in the country and increase security concerns in Yemen’s neighbouring economic powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

The call for change by the Yemeni people has only got stronger as Saleh’s regime has attempted crackdowns and counter protests. Saleh has already said he will step down ahead of elections in 2013. As the protests strengthen, he may have to leave office before then.