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Top Yemen general and Saleh confidante defects (VIDEO)

The general, a longtime confidante of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, will use his tanks and troops to defend protesters against the government.

Yemen general 2011 3 21Enlarge
Tens of thousands of anti-government Yemeni mourners carry the body of an activist who was among more than 50 protesters gunned down two days ago by snipers in Sanaa on March 20, 2011 during a mass funeral procession in the capital. (Ahmad Gharabli/Getty Images)

A top Yemen general has reportedly switched sides and said that he will use his tanks and troops to defend protesters against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, commander of the Yemeni army's powerful 1st Armored Division and a longtime confidante of Saleh, was joined by two senior officers, according to news reports. All three belong to Saleh's Hashid tribe, which also called on Saleh to step down on Sunday.

Units of Ahmar's division deployed in a major square in Sanaa on Sunday, as a crowd gathered to mourn dozens of protesters killed Friday by Saleh's security forces, including snipers.

Dozens of bodies wrapped in Yemeni flags were carried through the streets of Sanaa atop the shoulders of grieving relatives and friends from a hospital morgue to Sanaa University where tens of thousands of protesters stood waiting to mourn them.

Tanks and military vehicles belonging to the Yemeni Republican Guard, headed by Saleh’s son Ahmed, were also deployed around the presidential palace, other key government buildings and bank offices in the capital, according to Bloomberg.

The killings, coming after a two-month campaign of protests against Saleh, have intensified pressure on him to relinquish power after more than three decades.

The violence, much of it broadcast around the world, has led three ministers, 24 members of parliament and at least two diplomats to quit, according to Bloomberg.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has denounced the use of live ammunition by army troops against protesters in Sanaa.

Saleh, who has said the official security forces weren’t responsible for the massacre, dismissed his cabinet on Sunday.

Saleh retains some support among tribal leaders and within the army, and is backed by Saudi Arabia, with speculation emerging that the Saudi royal family could send in troops to prop up his regime as it has done in Bahrain, according to the Vancouver Sun.