Yemen''s parties to join anti-president protests

Sanaa, Feb 27 (AP) Yemen''s opposition parties todaysaid they are joining young protesters in their push to bringdown the country''s beleaguered president.

The announcement marked the second major setback intwo days for President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key US ally inthe fight against the al-Qaida terror network.

Two powerful chiefs from his own tribe yesterdayabandoned him, and hundreds of thousands called for his ousterin the largest protests yet.

In recent weeks, Yemen has seen daily protests,inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Themainstream opposition parties had been reluctant to join,preferring a wait-and-see approach.

However, today they said they would hold ralliesTuesday to show solidarity with the protesters. "We call onall the citizens to come out Tuesday and condemn the regimefor its crimes," said the Joint Gathering, an umbrellaorganisation for seven opposition parties, includingsocialist, moderate Islamic and nationalist factions.

The announcement is a blow to Saleh, who has been inpower for 32 years, said Abdel Bari Taher, a Yemeni analyst.

"If they join the people in the streets, they will swiftlydecide the fate of the regime," he said.

Anti-government protests were held today in citiesacross Yemen, including the capital of Sanaa, the city of Taizand the port of Aden.

In the eastern town of Malla, 18 protesters wereinjured in clashes with security forces, security officialssaid.

Security officials said Saleh dispatched army units,bolstered by tanks, to Aden to help security forces in puttingdown the protests. The officials spoke on condition ofanonymity because they are not authorised to speak to themedia.

Saleh yesterday appeared to be hardening his stance,after initially offering protesters to engage in dialogue andpromising that the security forces would not use force againstthem.

Yemeni TV quoted him as telling army commanders thatthe armed forces will not hesitate to "defend the security ofthe nation as well as the unity, freedom and democracy.""We will fight to the last drop in our blood," hesaid.

Saleh''s government had been weak even before theprotests erupted. He was faced with growing al-Qaida activityand a separatist movement in the south. At the start of theprotest wave, Saleh offered not to seek re-election in 2013,but was rebuffed by demonstrators.(AP)

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