SANAA, Yemen – In one of the bloodiest days of Yemen’s uprising, government troops backed by snipers and shelling attacked a square full of Yemeni protesters Saturday and battled with pro-opposition forces in the capital, killing at least 40 people and littering the streets with bodies.
The violence signaled an accelerated attempt by President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists to crush their rivals and tighten his grip on the country after his return a day earlier from Saudi Arabia, where he has been undergoing treatment for the past three months for wounds suffered in an assassination attempt.
One of Saleh’s top rivals – Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar – called for international help, asking the U.S. and other regional powers to rein him in. He warned that Saleh is pushing the country into civil war and compared him to the Roman emperor Nero, burning down his own city.
The turmoil is a blow to U.S. efforts to find a stable transfer of power to ensure the continued fight against al-Qaida militants in Yemen, who Washington says constitute the most dangerous branch of the terror network. With the country spiraling deeper into disorder, al-Qaida linked militants have already seized control of entire towns in southern Yemen beyond their traditional strongholds.
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