Protesters fear military and tribal support may hijack anti-Saleh movement in Yemen

Pro-reform movement worries that the old guard in the army and tribes joining the ranks of those opposed to President Ali Abdullah Saleh could lead to the hijacking of the objective of creating a civil state in Yemen.

SANA'A // Protest leaders in Yemen are concerned that growing support from military brass and tribal leaders could "hijack" the reform ambitions of their anti-government movement.

This apprehension has grown through days of defections from the administration and army of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, including Monday's pledge of military support for the protesters from Major General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, commander of the army's powerful 1st Armoured Division and formerly a close personal aide of Mr Saleh.

On Saturday, Sheikh Sadek Al Ahmar, the leader of Yemen's most influential tribal bloc, and a host of religious and tribal leaders threw their support behind the protesters.

Mr Saeed said: "The defection is a good sign that the regime is coming to end. However, we are concerned that the joining of the old guards in the army and tribes could lead to the hijacking of the revolutionary objective of creating a civil state."

Divisions have already appeared within the mostly youth-led and predominantly Shiite protest movement. After Monday's military defections, Abdulmalik al Houthi, leader of the northern Houthi rebels, demanded in a statement that General al Ahmar apologise to Yemenis for the "crimes" he allegedly committed under the regime of Mr Saleh.

The Houthis have been fighting an intermittent war against the government since 2004, reaching a fragile truce only in February 2010. The troops of the 1st Armoured Division were the main force battling the Houthis in the war-torn province of Sa'ada; thousands were killed and injured.

The role of the so-called old guards within the youthful rebellion has yet to be determined, protest leaders said. Abdulbari Taher, an independent political analyst, said: "I do share the concerns of some protesters about the defections of military leaders like [Al Ahmar] who was part of the military regime that committed crimes in different parts of the country.

"However, I think now it is difficult to take over a revolution that is gaining its legitimacy from the people in the streets. These young people are the guards of the revolution and the guarantee that it will achieve its goals."