Yemeni President’s Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year-old iron-fisted rule appeared to be falling apart on Monday as top army generals defected and prominent diplomats resigned.
Yemen's defense minister tried to save Saleh’s regime from collapse by pledging to prevent any “coup against democracy.”
"The armed forces will stay faithful to the oath they gave before God, the nation and political leadership under the brother president Ali Abdullah Saleh...," said the statement, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.
"We will not allow under any circumstances an attempt at a coup against democracy and constitutional legitimacy, or violation of the security of the nation and citizens."
Tanks were deployed outside the presidential palace on Monday morning, as a top general announced his allegiance to the protest movement seeking to oust Saleh from power.
Tanks took up positions in key locations across Sanaa including at the presidential palace, the central bank and the ministry of defense, an AFP correspondent saw.
The deployment came as General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, an armored infantry division commander, said that he had joined the "revolution" along with other senior officers.
Ahmar is the most senior military officer to pledge support for the opposition, which has been agitating for weeks to end Saleh's 32-year rule over the impoverished, tribal country.
His pledge comes a day after Saleh sacked his cabinet in a bid to placate opposition calls for sweeping reforms.
Also, the governor of Yemen's southern province of Aden Ahmed Qaatabi resigned "to protest what is happening in the county," amid a slew of defections to the opposition by Yemeni military and civilian leaders, said an official at his office, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The regime has already been weakened by the resignations of ministers, ambassadors and a host of ruling party MPs, but Saleh has refused to stand down until his term ends in 2013.
His regime was internationally condemned after more than 50 people were killed as loyalist gunmen opened fire on protesters in Sanaa's University Square, the center of the pro-democracy movement.
The defection of top military officers to the opposition is likely to complicate Washington's support for Saleh, whom it sees as a pillar of stability in a volatile country and a partner in the war against al-Qaeda.