Image: Yemeni army soldiers
Hani Mohammed  /  AP
Yemeni army soldiers rest as they guard a street next to the site of a meeting Wednesday to elect a national council, in Sanaa, Yemen.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/17/2011 3:01:52 PM ET 2011-08-17T19:01:52

Islamist militants have taken control of the southern Yemeni coastal town of Shaqra, the third town to fall into their hands, tribal sources and residents said Wednesday.

The tribal sources said government forces had allowed the militants to seize the town with little resistance. The militants, which the government says have ties to al-Qaida, entered the town in cars from another city already under their control.

This new takeover came as Yemeni opposition groups and protest leaders formed a national council on Wednesday to step up pressure on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relinquish power.

Mass protests calling on Saleh to step down have been roiling Yemen for months. In June, Saleh was badly wounded in an attack on his palace compound.

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Rare show of unity
Salem Mohammed Bassindwa, a top opposition figure, says youth groups and political parties named 143 council members to represent the people, a rare show of unity.

"This is a revolutionary council aimed at toppling the rule of the (Saleh) family and the remnants of this regime," Bassindwa said. He clarified that it is "not an alternative to the government."

The council members will elect a president and an executive body. It will also form "popular committees" in Yemeni cities, to be in charge of "protecting citizens' properties and state institutions" at time of crisis and street clashes, he said.

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Saleh, Yemen's ruler for 33 years, has clung to power throughout the uprising despite mass protests, defections by military commanders, growing international pressure to transfer power and an attack on his palace that left him badly injured. He has been in neighboring Saudi Arabia for treatment of severe burns and other wounds since June 5.

The United States and his Saudi hosts have pressuring on Saleh not to return to Yemen, fearing his return would likely trigger a civil war between loyalists and the opposition movement backed by armed tribesmen and army units that switched sides.

Even so, Saleh declared Tuesday that he is determined to go home. "See you soon in Sanaa," he told a tribal gathering in a video conference from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Image: Anti-government protests in Yemen
Yahya Arhab  /  EPA
Influential Yemeni tribe leader Sadeq bin Abdullah al-Ahmar (C) attends a meeting Wednesday to form a national council aiming to run the country, in Sana'a, Yemen.

The position of the council on a U.S.-backed power transfer deal is not yet clear. The deal, proposed by an Arab Gulf grouping, gives Saleh immunity from prosecution if he transfers power to his deputy, who would then call elections. Saleh came close to signing several times but then backed away.

While the formal political parties and the main tribal federation backed the deal, youth movements and protest leaders rejected immunity for Saleh.

Before the announcement of formation of the new council, a rumor spread that thousands of protesters would march to the presidential palace in Sanaa, prompting the pro-Saleh Republican Guard force to deploy troops, tanks and armored vehicles in the streets of the capital, alarming residents and raising fears of a military confrontation.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Photos: July

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  1. A man prepares the grave of Hassan al-Hora during his funeral at a cemetery in Sanaa, July 19. Fighting between government forces and opposition supporters erupted in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Monday, killing six people, among them al-Hora, opposition sources said. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a demonstration to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz, July 19. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A girl has ''will not leave'' written on her face during a rally to support Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa July 17. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Wednesday, July 13. (Mohammed Hamoud / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. An anti-government protester writes slogans on a wall using his own blood during a rally to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh at Tagheer square in Sanaa on July 13. The words read "In my blood I protect Yemen." (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Girls light candles as they attend a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz July 9. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A Yemeni anti-government protester displays bullets allegedly fired by supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration demanding Saleh’s ousting, in Sana'a, Yemen on July 8. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sit on stone pillars during a rally in support of President Saleh in Sana'a, Yemen, on July 8. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh staged rallies around his vacant palace Friday after their leader's first TV appearance since being injured in a blast last month and leaving for treatment in Saudi Arabia. (Mohammed Al-Sayaghi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A supporter of Saleh kisses his picture as his supporters celebrate in Sanaa on July 7 after he appeared on television for the first time since he was severely wounded in an assassination attempt. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Saleh delivers a speech from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on July 7, making his first public appearance since he was wounded in an attack on his palace in Sanaa in June. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Anti-government protesters join their hands and shout slogans demanding an end to the 32-year regime of President Saleh, in Sanaa on July 6. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A police vehicle is set ablaze during clashes between armed followers of the opposition and police in the southern city of Taiz on July 6. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A relative of victims of recent clashes talks to a member of the United Nations human rights investigation team, left, in Sanaa on July 5. The U.N. team arrived in Yemen last week to assess the situation in the country after months of unrest. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Women recite prayers during a rally to demand the ouster of President Saleh in the southern city of Taiz on July 1. Tens of thousands of Yemenis turned Friday prayers into rallies for and against Saleh, who is recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt in June. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Man prepares the grave of al-Hora during his funeral at a cemetery in Sanaa
    Suhaib Salem / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (14) Political unrest in Yemen - July
  2. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (39) Political unrest in Yemen - June
  3. Image: Anti-government protests in Yemen
    Wadia Mohammed / EPA
    Slideshow (59) Political unrest in Yemen - May
  4. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (25) Political unrest in Yemen - April
  5. Image: Tens of thousands of Yemenis take to the
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (67) Political unrest in Yemen - Earlier photos

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