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Yemen leader again balks at leaving; tension grows

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Yemeni girls chant slogans along with anti-government protestors in Sanaa, Yemen, May 22. / AP/Hani Mohammed

SANAA, Yemen – Armed with guns, knives and swords, supporters of Yemen’s leader trapped U.S., European and Arab ambassadors at a diplomatic mission in new turmoil that swept across the capital Sunday as the president refused to sign an agreement calling for him to step down in 30 days.

Security forces broke up the crowd after several hours of letting them besiege the embassy. But President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s balking at the U.S.-backed deal threatened to wreck hopes for a peaceful resolution to the chaos that has consumed this key Arab nation, where hundreds of thousands have protested for three months, defying a bloody crackdown, to demand his ouster.

If the mediation collapses, many fear further deterioration of the political situation, including an escalation of armed conflict between Saleh’s loyalists and military units that have joined the opposition.

At nightfall Sunday, tensions were high in Sanaa, the capital. Pro-government gunmen and soldiers locked down main streets around the capital with roadblocks, while tens of thousands of anti-Saleh demonstrators were massed at their protest camp in a central Sanaa square, worried that a new crackdown could ensue.

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