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The tenuous power of Yemen’s embattled president weakened Monday as a wave of high-level officials, including the country’s senior military commander, an important tribal leader and a half-dozen ambassadors, abandoned him and threw their support behind protesters calling for his ouster.

As the country girded itself for the next stage of a deepening crisis, military units appeared to take sides in the capital, with the Republican Guard protecting the palace of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and soldiers from the 1st Armored Division under the defecting military commander, Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, protecting the throngs of protesters in Sanaa.

Despite a celebratory mood among the demonstrators, the standoff prompted the U.S. Embassy to urge Americans in Yemen to stay indoors Monday night because of “political instability and uncertainty.”

The defection of al-Ahmar, who commands forces in the country’s northwest, was seen by many in Yemen as a turning point and a possible sign that government leaders could be negotiating an exit for the president. But the defense minister later said on TV that the armed forces remained loyal to Saleh.

That suggested the possibility of a dangerous split in the military should Saleh, who dismissed his Cabinet late Sunday night in the face of escalating opposition, decide to fight to preserve his 32-year rule. His son Ahmed commands the Republican Guard, and four nephews hold important The tenuous power of Yemen’s embattled president weakened Monday as a wave of high-level officials, including the country’s senior military commander, an important tribal leader and a half-dozen ambassadors, abandoned him and threw their support behind protesters calling for his ouster.

As the country girded itself for the next stage of a deepening crisis, military units appeared to take sides in the capital, with the Republican Guard protecting the palace of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and soldiers from the 1st Armored Division under the defecting military commander, Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, protecting the throngs of protesters in Sanaa.

Despite a celebratory mood among the demonstrators, the standoff prompted the U.S. Embassy to urge Americans in Yemen to stay indoors Monday night because of “political instability and uncertainty.”

The defection of al-Ahmar, who commands forces in the country’s northwest, was seen by many in Yemen as a turning point and a possible sign that government leaders could be negotiating an exit for the president. But the defense minister later said on TV that the armed forces remained loyal to Saleh.

That suggested the possibility of a dangerous split in the military should Saleh, who dismissed his Cabinet late Sunday night in the face of escalating opposition, decide to fight to preserve his 32-year rule. His son Ahmed commands the Republican Guard, and four nephews hold important

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