Dubai: Amid growing fears of a civil war in the country, Yemen's elite Republican Guards loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Thursday clashed with Army units supporting opposition protesters seeking the resignation of the embattled leader.
 
The clashes between Presidential Guards and the Army units who have backed opposition groups and protesters asking Saleh to quit took place in the eastern Hadramout provincial town Mukalla on Wednesday, Al Jazeera channel said.

Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a political analyst, warned that there was a growing risk of "civil war" due to such clashes.

"With the military divided, the risk of confrontation and escalation is just too great. Right now it's at a very low level, and it won't start an all-out battle, but the risk is still there," he was quoted as saying by Arab channel.

Reports quoting witnesses and medics said at least two Army men, including a Colonel were injured in the clashes, the second this week against Saleh who has ruled the country for the past three decades with an iron fist.

It said it was not clear whether the wounded colonel was on the government's side or Army units siding with the protesters.

Two soldiers were killed earlier this week in clashes between rival groups near a presidential palace in Mukalla.

Al-Iryani described Saleh's offer to step down at the end of this year as "too little, too late". "This was on the table some time ago, and the President rejected it," he said.

Al-Iryani said that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and western powers were currently working to "facilitate some kind of peaceful transition" of power.

Arms consignment seized

As Yemen plunged close to civil war, the UAE authorities on Thursday seized massive arms consignment of 16,000 guns bound for the strife torn nation.

The consignment worth USD 4.4 million was bound for Yemen's northern province of Saada, a Shia rebels' stronghold, Dubai Police Chief Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim said.

Six Arabs have been arrested by Dubai Police who seized the pistols from a warehouse where the shipment was hidden by the gang, Khalfan announced at a press conference, the Khaleej Times reported.

Emergency declared

The Yemeni Parliament dominated by supporters of Saleh approved a sweeping state of emergency giving him new powers to quash a popular uprising.

The opposition termed the House vote on Wednesday as illegal and vowed to push ahead with its campaign to unseat the embattled US-backed President, setting the stage for further violence in a country which has already seen dozens of demonstrators killed in clashes with authorities.

The new month-long emergency law suspended the strife torn nation's constitution, allows media censorship, bars street protests and give security agencies overriding powers to arrests and detain suspects without judicial process.

Alarm in Washington

The turmoil has raised alarm in Washington which has heavily backed Saleh to wage a campaign against al-Qaeda wing that has plotted against the US.

The US has called for a political resolution of the current unrest, with a genuine participation by all sides.

"People of Yemen have the same rights as people anywhere, and we support dialogue as a path to a peaceful solution to Yemen’s current political situation that includes genuine participation by all sides," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a news conference in Washington.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates underlined the need for the rulers to address the "unhappiness inside Yemen".

US is watching the situation very closely, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said adding that America's interests in Yemen go beyond specific individuals.

Britons leaving

Amid the deepening unrest in the country, Britain asked its citizens in Yemen to "leave now" to avoid getting caught up in the violence.

Britain's Foreign Office on Wednesday said it was leaving only a skeleton staff at its embassy in Yemen.

In a statement, the UK asked all parties in Yemen "to exercise the utmost restraint and take all steps necessary to defuse this situation" pushing the country towards a civil war.

The imposition of emergency in the violence-hit nation comes amid growing confrontation between top Army generals, tribal chiefs, lawmakers, politicians and diplomats who have joined together to demand the resignation of Saleh who has been running the country for the last 32-years.

The confrontation in the country already ripped by Shia uprising in the north and an upsurge of al-Qaeda in the south reached a boiling point after regime soldiers gunned down 52 anti-Saleh protesters in Sanaa University on Friday.

(Agencies)