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Yemen leader sees civil war

Yemen's U.S.-backed president, his support crumbling among political allies and the army, warned that the country could slide into a "bloody" civil war Tuesday as the opposition rejected his offer to step down by the end of the year. Tens of thousands protested in the capital demanding his immediate ouster, emboldened by top military commanders who joined their cause.

Ali Abdullah Saleh's apparent determination to cling to power 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 Sana -- 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 has been seen by many as a major turning point toward a potentially rapid end for Saleh's nearly 32-year rule.

The question is whether the Yemeni chapter of the uprisings sweeping the Middle East will read more like Egypt -- where the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak set the country on a relatively stable, if still uncertain, move toward democracy -- or like Libya, which has seen brutal fighting between armed camps.

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.

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