Even as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appealed for a cease-fire, the political situation continued to deteriorate around him.
Saleh, under intense pressure to step down in the face of at times intense criticism of his authoritarian rule, has repeatedly denied to give up his post immediately, insisting that such an action would create chaos in the country. It appears, though, that his refusal to step down is creating the very chaos he is attempting to prevent.
In the wake of successful regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters have taken to the streets of Sanaa, the capital, and other cities in Yemen, at times in crowds of more than 100,000, to protest against Saleh's nearly 30-year first-person rule. Saleh and opposition leaders have traded counterproposals for several weeks now, but no firm agreement is in place. More than once, Saleh has seemed poised to walk away from the presidency but has pulled back. The latest such incident, in which Saleh rejected a deal that would have left him immune from prosecution, triggered intense violence, which resulted in 38 deaths in Sanaa.
Several key military commanders have abandoned their commander-in-chief in recent weeks, among them Gen. Ali Mohsin, who still controls the First Armoured Division, which boasts nearly half of the country's military might. A great many troops still hold allegiance to Saleh, however, and it is those troops who have traded fire with opposition forces, including, at least once, Mohsin's division.
Other countries in the area and around the world are involved. The Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) has attempted to serve as mediator. The United States and other Western countries, with an eye on the country's history of internal tensions, have spoken out against the violence on the streets. Many observers fear a civil war.