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Originally published Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 3:53 AM

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Yemen parliament meets to debate emergency law

Yemen's parliament was meeting Wednesday at the request of the country's embattled president to discuss imposing emergency law for 30 days to deal with a popular uprising demanding his immediate ouster.

Associated Press

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SANAA, Yemen —

Yemen's parliament was meeting Wednesday at the request of the country's embattled president to discuss imposing emergency law for 30 days to deal with a popular uprising demanding his immediate ouster.

The law gives security forces far reaching powers of arresting and detaining suspects, suspends the constitution, allows censorship of the media and bars street protests. President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling party dominates the legislature, making the adoption of the emergency measure almost certain.

The measure comes as Saleh has already dramatically increased his crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, with his security forces shooting dead more than 40 protesters on Friday in Sanaa.

Support for the president has also been crumbling, with senior military commanders, tribal leaders, diplomats, lawmakers, provincial governors and newspaper editors joining the opposition.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, warned on Tuesday of civil war as the opposition rejected his offer to step down by the end of the year. He also called for a dialogue with the leaders of the youth movements leading the protests at a central Sanaa square that has become the movement's epicenter.

His warning of a civil war underscored his determination to cling to power and raised fears that Yemen could be pushed into even greater instability. In a potentially explosive split, rival factions of the military have deployed tanks in the capital Sanaa - with units commanded by Saleh's son protecting the president's palace, and units loyal to a top dissident commander protecting the protesters.

The defection on Monday of that commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a powerful regime insider who commands the army's powerful 1st Armored Division, has been seen by many as a major turning point toward a potentially rapid end for Saleh's nearly 32-year rule.

Clashes broke out late Monday between Saleh's Republican Guard and dissident army units in the far eastern corner of the country. On Tuesday, Republican Guard tanks surrounded a key air base in the western Red Sea coastal city of Hodeida after its commander - Col. Ahmed al-Sanhani, a member of Saleh's own clan - announced he was joining the opposition.

The turmoil raised alarm in Washington, which has heavily backed Saleh to wage a campaign against a major Yemen-based al-Qaida wing that plotted attacks in the United States.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on a trip to Russia, said Tuesday that "instability and diversion of attention" from dealing with al-Qaida is a "primary concern about the situation." He refused to weigh in on whether Saleh should step down.

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