) -- A number of top commanders, ambassadors and tribes joined Yemen's anti-government movement on Monday calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh as he tries retaining his power, reports said.

Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the army commander of Yemen's powerful No. 1 Armored Division, was one of three commanders to back the anti-government protests on Monday,

The Associated Press


Anti-government protesters shout during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen on Monday.

"We announce our peaceful support for the peaceful revolution of the youth and their demands and we carry out our duty ... in ensuring security and stability in the capital," northwest military commander Al-Ahmar said,



Al-Ahmar decided to back the opposition after

more than 50 civilians were killed in a violent crackdown on Friday

when government forces opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters in the capital city Sanaa.

"The demands of the protesters are the demands of the Yemeni people," al-Ahmar told

Al Jazeera

television from a square in Sanaa, which has become the epicenter of the anti-government movement. "I can no longer fool myself; it is not the custom of men or tribes to do so."

Eastern military commander Mohammed Ali Mohsen and Amran region commander Hameed al-Qusaibi were the other two officers of Saleh's Hashid tribe who announced they were also supporting the opposition.

Yemen's ambassadors to Jordan, Syria and parliament's deputy speaker also turned against Saleh's weakening authority when they announced Monday they would support the demonstrations against Saleh's 32-year oppressive rule.

Despite a number of defections from state officials, Arab TV station

Al Arabiya

quoted President Saleh as saying that he still believed the majority of Yemenis were on his side and that he was "holding on,"



A senior opposition leader said contacts were underway with the president over a peaceful way out of the ongoing crisis. One option under discussion, he said, was for Saleh to step down and a military council to take over from him to run the country until presidential and legislative elections are held.

--Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.

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