Image: Anti-government protesters
Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
Anti-government protesters pray Sunday  around the bodies of demonstrators killed in clashes with Yemeni security forces.
updated 3/20/2011 2:11:18 PM ET 2011-03-20T18:11:18

Yemen's president has fired his entire Cabinet amid escalating protests demanding his ouster.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh is facing a monthlong popular uprising against him that has turned increasingly bloody in the past few days as security troops opened fire on demonstrators in the capital and in the country's south. Around 100 people have been killed so far in the unrest.

The president's office issued a statement Sunday saying he was firing his Cabinet. The announcement came after members of Saleh's own tribe called on him to step down, robbing the U.S.-backed leader of vital support.

Tens of thousands of people joined a funeral procession Sunday for protesters killed by government gunmen, robbing the embattled U.S.-backed leader of vital support.

Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations and its human rights minister resigned to protest the crackdown, further undermining President Ali Abdullah Saleh. 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.

Saleh appeared to shy away from more force for the moment, disbanding police and special forces around Sanaa University, which has been the center of the deadly 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 against Saleh, and government snipers killed more than 40 protesters. The violence drew condemnation from the U.N. and the United States, which backs his government with hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to battle a potent al-Qaida offshoot based in Yemen's mountainous hinterlands.

Some of the country's most important religious leaders joined in the call for Saleh's resignation.

"This is definitely in my view now entering into some form of an end game," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center.

Yemen's most powerful tribe, its opposition parties and masses of young protesters have now united in calls for Saleh's departure, Shaikh said, calling that a dire sign for the president's ability to retain power.

"The disparate elements of what can be called the opposition have now coalesced around the demand for him to step down," Shaikh said. "This is now a very powerful, irresistible coalition."

Mohammad al-Sabri, an opposition spokesman, told The Associated Press that the opposition will under no circumstances agree to a dialogue with Saleh after the crimes his regime has committed.

"The president must understand that the only way to avoid more bloodshed and strife in this country is for him to leave. Nobody will have any regrets about him," he said.

People living in apartment buildings around the square tossed down flowers at Sunday's funeral procession. Electricity was cut off for about three hours in Yemen's major cities, and activists accused the government of trying to block people from seeing television coverage of the march. Cell service was also interrupted.

Massive crowds flooded into the Sanaa University square and solidarity demonstrations were held across the country in regions including Aden, Hadramawt, Ibb, Al-Hudaydah, Dhamar and Taiz.

"We hail with all respect and observance, the position of the people at the (Sanaa University) square," Sheik Sadiq al-Ahmar, head of Saleh's Hashed tribe, said in a joint statement with the religious leaders issued after a meeting at his home late Saturday.

Opposition parties taking part in the procession said they had have changed their position from demands for political reforms to calls for Saleh's removal.

"Our only choice now is the removal of the regime soon. We stand by the people's demand," opposition leader Yassin Said Numan told The Associated Press.

Human Rights Minister Huda al-Ban said she was stepping down to protest the government's "horrible, coward and perfidious crime." And a Foreign Ministry official told The Associated Press that UN Ambassador Abdullah Alsaidi had sent in his letter of resignation.

Health Minister Abdul-Karim Rafi told reporters the killing of protesters was "a crime unacceptable by logic or could be justified."

He said 44 protesters were killed and 192 wounded, 21 critically.

Prosecutor-General Abdullah al-Ulty said that 693 protesters were hurt and some bodies have not yet been identified.

Mohammed Naji Allaw, a lawyer and activist, said the government offering money to victims' families to not cooperate with the investigation, and was pressuring them not to participate in the funeral procession.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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