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Yemen rebels intensify pressure on leader

SAN'A, Yemen -- After four months of widespread anti-government demonstrations, numerous defections of high-ranking officials and mounting pressure from powerful tribes, President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears to be losing his increasingly fragile grip on the nation.

Fighting raged all day yesterday in the capital between Saleh's forces and fighters loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the leader of one of Yemen's most powerful tribal federations, signaling the collapse of cease-fire negotiations. Saleh's forces bombarded the Hasaba neighborhood around al-Ahmar's house, which includes several government ministries, but al-Ahmar's fighters maintained their hold on the area.

The top United Nations human rights official condemned the government's "intensified use of force" against protesters in the southern city of Taiz, a center of the anti-government movement. The UN said it had received unconfirmed reports that more than 50 were killed there since Sunday by pro-government forces using live ammunition.

In San'a, news reports said Saleh's forces targeted an army division headed by Ali Mohsin, a general who defected from the government in March. The Yemeni Department of Defense denied the reports, however, and several top army defectors appear for now to have stayed out of the fighting.

Top members of the military, once Saleh's most reliable base of support, have been deserting him since pro-government forces were ordered to fire on protesters in San'a in March. Over the weekend, amid reports of mounting army defections, a group of anti-government generals called on members of the military to declare their support for the protests.

"Many of us are waiting for the right time to join the revolution," a member of the elite Republican Guard, which is led by Saleh's son Ahmed Ali, said on condition of anonymity.

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