Update at 11:48 a.m. ET: French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says the departure of President Saleh is “unavoidable.”
Update at 11:37 a.m. ET: Yemeni Defense Minister Mohammad Nasser Ali, in an address on national television today, said the military backs President Saleh and will defend him against any “coup against democracy.”
“We will not allow instability” in the country, he said.
Update at 11:05 a.m. ET: The defections set off celebrations among the thousands of flag-waving demonstrators in Sanaa’s main square. They handed out flowers to troops sent by the defecting military leaders to protect the demonstrators and to guard strategic points in the capital.
President Saleh sent his foreign minister to Saudi Arabia to ask its help with mediation, Al-Jazeera reports.
Abdel-Wahhab Tawaf, who resigned today as Yemen’s ambassador to Syria, tells Al-Jazeera TV, “Things have turned to an extreme that cannot be reversed.”
Earlier posting: Several top Yemeni army commanders switched sides and supported the demands by anti-government protesters for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign after 33 years in power, Al-Jazeera TV reports.
The defections follow weekend clashes in which security forces killed at least 50 people.
“Yemen today is suffering from a comprehensive and dangerous crisis, and it is widespread,” says Major Gen. Ali Muhsin Saleh, the head of the northwestern military zone and head of the first armored division. “Lack of dialog and oppression of peaceful protesters in the public sphere resulted in crisis which has increased each day.”
He said at a news conference today that the military backs the revolution and its demands and will “fulfill our duties.”
Other defectors include the head of the eastern division, the adviser to the Yemeni supreme leader of the army and other generals.
The Los Angeles Times reports that after the announcements by the generals, protesters outside Sanaa University, near the center of the capital city, reported that some loyalist soldiers at the site have been replaced by soldiers under Muhsin Saleh’s command.
Al-Jazeera reports a half-dozen top diplomats have resigned, including the envoys to China, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.