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Yemen calls truce; sporadic blasts heard

Yemen's government signed a cease-fire agreement with a dissident general Tuesday to try to end weeks of worsening bloodshed, but sporadic explosions and gunfire were still heard in the north of the capital.

After months of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule, a standoff between him and an opposition made up of protesters, tribesmen and renegade soldiers tipped into street fighting last month. Previous truces collapsed.

A government official said the cease-fire deal between Saleh's administration and the breakaway general, Ali Mohsen, was to take effect at 3 p.m. yesterday but residents of the Hasaba and Sofan neighborhoods in northern San'a said they heard explosions after that time.

State media later said the truce was stabilizing, and a mediator expressed optimism it would hold.

"In spite of the violations of the cease-fire, the mediation committee is still . . . making contacts with all parties to implement the agreement. The issue is not easy but we are still optimistic," the mediator told Reuters.

Saleh, defying hostile demonstrations inspired by protests across the Arab world, has refused to step down in line with a plan brokered by Gulf states. The United States and Saudi Arabia fear the upheaval is giving al-Qaida's local wing more room to operate in Yemen, the poorest Arab country.

In Washington, the State Department said Saleh called in U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein to tell him about the cease-fire and his intention to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council transition plan for Yemen.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States was encouraged by the developments.

Earlier Tuesday, security forces opened fire on a protest march in San'a, killing two people, witnesses said. An opposition source said a third person was killed in shelling by Saleh's troops in the Sofan district.

The cease-fire agreement came four days after a United Nations Security Council resolution condemned violence in Yemen and urged Saleh to sign the Gulf initiative to hand over power.

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