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Sun 20 Mar 2011 11:14 PM

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Yemeni president fires gov't amid protests

Efforts to form new gov't underway following bloodshed that saw 52 protesters shot dead by snipers

Yemeni president fires gov't amid protests
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Getty Images)

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah

Saleh, who has seen a string of allies break ranks with him in

recent days, fired his government on Sunday, as he faced

increasing pressure from street protests to step down.

Mourners buried some of the 52 anti-government protesters

shot dead by rooftop snipers after Muslim Friday prayers in the

Arabian Peninsula state, where tens of thousands of people have

protested for weeks against Saleh's three decades-long rule.

"The president of the republic has dismissed the

government," state media said, adding that efforts to form a new

government were underway. No reasons was given for the move.

Friday's bloodshed prompted Saleh, struggling to preserve

his rule, to declare a state of emergency for 30 days that

restricts freedom of movement and the right to gather. It also

gives police more powers to make inspections and arrests.

Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations Abdullah Alsaidi

resigned his post on Sunday as defections picked up steam after

Friday's killings.

In Sanaa, mourners started burying the dead in side-by-side

graves in a small cemetery near a military camp.

Police, who protesters blame for the deaths, withdrew from

public sight near protest areas to be replaced by soldiers

dressed in camouflage uniforms but bearing only batons, in an

apparent bid to reduce tensions.

"This is an acknowledgment of the failure of the security in

repressing the revolution, and the crowds that came out today

are a signal of the readiness to put forth more sacrifices,"

opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabry said.

A government source said neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the

world's top oil exporter, had been trying to quietly mediate

even before Friday's shooting, and efforts were continuing.

Tanks stood guard near the presidential palace in Sanaa and

armoured vehicles were positioned outside sensitive locations.

But tension in the capital appeared lower, and ambulances

ferried the bodies, draped in Yemeni flags, to the cemetery. In

the protest camp near Sanaa University, mourners placed roses at

a site where five protesters died.

"We have one aim, but revolutions require sacrifices, and we

are willing to give more of our blood for our cause," said

Wassim al-Qudsi, a young man who was among the mourners.

Saleh, also trying to cement a northern truce and quell

southern separatism, has rejected demands to resign immediately,

promising instead to step down in 2013 and offering a new

constitution giving more powers to parliament.

Doctors said the death toll from the shooting rose to 52,

higher than the 25 deaths confirmed by the interior ministry.

Protesters said they had caught at least seven snipers

carrying government identity cards who they said had been

involved in the shooting, but Saleh denied this, blaming gunmen

among the protesters for the violence.

A string of his allies have since broken ranks to join

protesters frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring

unemployment. Some 40 percent of the population live on $2 a day

or less in Yemen, and a third face chronic hunger.

In addition to the UN envoy, Yemen's Minister for Human

Rights Houda al-Ban also resigned her post on Sunday, making her

the second cabinet member to defect since Friday.

"The critical situation prevents us from continuing in our

jobs under a regime that does not respect human rights and

freedoms," Ban said, speaking also on behalf of her deputy Ali

Tayseer.

Tourism Minister Nabil Hasan al-Faqih resigned and quit the

ruling party on Friday. The head of the party's foreign affairs

committee also left, and on Sunday a deputy from Dalea province

left the party.

Two other prominent members of the ruling party also quit

including the head of the state news agency, Nasr Taha Mustafa.

A former ambassador, Abdul Malek al-Iryani, also declined an

invitation to join the Shura Council.

Washington, which sees Yemen as a key ally against a

resurgent al-Qaeda wing, said U.S. citizens should avoid areas

of planned demonstrations, which could turn violent. It has

already urged Americans to leave Yemen.

As unrest continued across Yemen, tribesmen fired

rocket-propelled grenades at a power plant in Maarib province on

Sunday, cutting electricity to parts of the capital and the

southern port city of Aden, a government source said.

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