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YEMEN: Key tribal leader resigns, dealing a blow to Saleh [Updated]

The leader of one of Yemen's most important tribes joined the anti-regime movement Saturday, effectively abandoning President Ali Abdullah Saleh and escalating pressure on the leader to step down.

"I have announced my resignation from the General People's Congress in protest at the repression of peaceful demonstrators in Sana, Taez and Aden," Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah Ahmar told members of the Hashid tribe in a gathering north of Sana, the capital. Tribe members reportedly broke out into anti-government chants after his remarks.

The Hashid tribe is one of Yemen's largest and most influential. Also at the meeting were members of the Baqil tribe, according to news network Al Arabiya. Members of the Hashid are said to have withdrawn support from the Yemeni leader.

[For the record at 1:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this post stated that both tribes had withdrawn support for Saleh. Some members of the Hashid tribe have withdrawn support.]

Saleh has ruled the country since 1978, maintaining his grip on power by courting allegiances from key members of the powerful tribes.

The resignations came after the death toll rose to four Saturday after police reportedly fired into a crowd of protesters. 

A key leader of the Sanhan tribe, the president's home tribe and a Hashid affiliate, resigned earlier in the week.

About 180,000 protesters took to the streets Friday in the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the nation's history. The protests were markedly larger than ones earlier in the week, which mostly consisted of students.

-- Alana Semuels

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