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Four soldiers were killed in Yemen by gunmen suspected to be members of Al Qaeda, heightening tensions a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh rejected an opposition plan to step down before the end of the year. The plan, submitted last week, was intended to placate protesters demanding a new government in the wake of President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in Egypt.
The Associated Press reports that, according to security officials, Al Qaeda gunmen ambushed members of the elite Republican Guard as the soldiers delivered food to military checkpoints near Marib, about 100 miles east of the capital of Sanaa. A security source said that attackers escaped after the attack. AP notes that Marib is an Al Qaeda stronghold where the government has little authority.
The attack comes as both the United States and Britain issued warnings to their citizens to avoid traveling to Yemen. BBC News writes that the US State department said that the risk to citizens in Yemen was "extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest." The State department added that the US's ability to evacuate citizens would be "extremely limited" should a crisis occur in Yemen. The BBC adds that the US announcement follows a similar travel warning by the British government to its citizens.
The Al Qaeda attack in Yemen is apt to raise tensions within the government, as it deals with protesters demanding the resignation of Mr. Saleh, more jobs, and an end to government corruption. Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, dug in on Saturday by rejecting a proposal to leave office before the end of the year. The Wall Street Journal reports that Saleh refuses to step down until his term ends in September 2013.
"The peaceful and smooth transition of power is not carried out through chaos but through the will of the people expressed through elections," his office said. Bloomberg adds that the government's official news source reported that the plan was a "blatant overthrow of democracy and constitutional legitimacy," according to an unnamed government official.
Protesters share little enthusiasm for opposition plan
But even had the plan been accepted, there is little enthusiasm for it among protesters. The Christian Science Monitor reported on Thursday, when the plan was offered, that protesters want Saleh to leave immediately, and distrust the machinations of the government. "This is the people's revolution, not the parties'," says Sanaa University law student Tareq Abdul Aziz. "This [plan] is the political path, and we’ve been down it before. We don’t trust Saleh to keep his word and we will continue to protest until he is gone."
Nonetheless, Saleh has been under pressure within his own party, the General People's Congress, which has seen the defection of several members in the past week. Agence France-Presse reports that two members of parliament announced their resignations from the GPC on Friday in protest of the government's use of violence against protesters. They bring the total of GPC defectors over the past week to 13.
Human Rights Watch also condemned government violence against peaceful protesters Friday, accusing Yemeni security forces of facilitating attacks on citizens by pro-government gangs. HRW says that more than 30 protesters were injured in two such attacks last week.