SA'NA, Yemen -- The country's president fired the entire cabinet yesterday in an apparent attempt to head off the embarrassment of a mass resignation many of them were planning in protest of his bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh is facing a monthlong popular uprising by crowds demanding his ouster after 32 years ruling over an impoverished and volatile nation. The showdown has turned increasingly bloody in the past few days as security troops opened fire on demonstrators. Around 100 people have been killed in the unrest.
Tens of thousands joined a funeral procession yesterday for protesters killed by government gunmen and Saleh's own tribe called on him to step down, robbing the U.S.-backed leader of vital support.
Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations and its human rights minister resigned to protest the crackdown. Experts said the president's dwindling influence was likely to either accelerate his departure or force him to resort to greater violence to retain power.
In a sign that he is still intent on hanging on, the president's office issued a terse statement saying he was firing his cabinet. It gave no explanation.
In the streets, Saleh appeared to shy away from using more force for the moment, disbanding police and special forces around Sa'na University, the center of the crackdown, and replacing them with a largely unarmed force.
"From now on, we will be controlling the entrances and exits of the square by orders from the supreme military command," said Lt. Col. Mohammed Hussein.
Friday was the bloodiest day of the monthlong uprising with government snipers killing more than 40 protesters. The violence drew condemnation from the UN and the United States, which backs Saleh with hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to battle a potent al-Qaida offshoot based in mountainous hinterlands.