Anti-government tribesmen overran an army base housing an elite unit north of Yemen's capital early Monday, security officials said, capturing 30 soldiers and dealing a blow to the prestige of the powerful Republican Guards led by the son of the country's embattled president.
Yemen has been wracked by violence since February when an uprising broke out to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Government forces have killed hundreds in an attempt to stamp out the revolt, and the crackdown has intensified since Saleh returned Friday from neighboring Saudi Arabia where he was receiving treatment for wounds and burns suffered in a June attack on his Sanaa compound.
The assault by the tribesman on the Republican Guards' base at Dahrah took place early Monday. The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the base commander, Brig. Ali al-Keleibi, was killed in the fighting. The statement gave no further details of Monday's fighting.
The officials said the tribesmen captured 30 guards when they seized control of the facility. At least four tribesmen were killed and 27 others wounded in the fighting, but the officials had no word on casualties among the guards. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
It was the second Republican Guards' base to be captured in a week. Protesters backed by renegade soldiers overran a base belonging to the guards last week in Sanaa as the opposition stepped up its campaign to oust Saleh.
The Yemeni leader is under tremendous pressure from street protesters, neighboring Arab nations and the United States to transfer power and end the country's deepening crisis, which has killed hundreds since anti-government demonstrations began in February, ignited by the unrest sweeping the Arab world.
Al-Qaida-linked fighters have already taken advantage of Yemen's unrest to overrun several towns in southern Yemen, expanding their range of influence beyond the country's hinterlands. In a televised address Sunday, Saleh accused his opponents of cooperating with al-Qaida, plotting a coup and shedding blood in an attempt to seize power.
He also has signaled an intention several times to sign a U.S.-backed deal to step aside in exchange for immunity from prosecution only to back out at the last minute.
In Sunday's address, Saleh said he was committed to the deal, which was drafted by an alliance of Gulf nations that includes powerful Saudi Arabia. His opponents, however, do not trust him and believe he is stalling for time while consolidating his hold on power.
Saleh has tasked his vice president with overseeing negotiations on the deal, but at no point in his address did he provide any indication he might agree to demands to step down immediately.
Meanwhile on Monday, thousands of protesters were gathering for a massive demonstration at Sanaa's Central Change square, the epicenter of the Yemen uprising, but there have been no reports of clashes so far.
At least 150 people, mostly protesters, renegade soldiers and tribesmen, have been killed over the past week as pro-government forces used what many see as excessive force. They rained mortar shells on protesters and fired on crowds with anti-aircraft guns. Snipers stationed on rooftops have also picked off protesters on the streets below.