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Yemen heads toward civil war as Saleh escalates fight with major tribal leader

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Mohammed Al-Sayaghi/AP

(Read caption) The head of the powerful Hashid tribe, Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, center, walks with his body guards near his house in Sanaa, Yemen, May 26. Yemen's government said 28 people were killed in an explosion at a weapons storage site Thursday, but the opposition claimed military forces shelled a building used by tribal fighters who have risen up against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and warn of civil war if he refuses to step down.

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• A daily summary of global reports on security issues. This article was updated at 8:53 a.m.

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the arrest Thursday of Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the leader of Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation. The move could escalate already serious clashes in Sanaa between security forces loyal to Saleh and thousands of armed tribal fighters, potentially igniting civil war.

Fighters loyal to President Saleh and Mr. Ahmar clashed overnight Wednesday in the capital Sanaa, leaving dozens dead, according to Al Jazeera. The fighting has raged since Monday, after yet another deal for Saleh to step down failed. An ammunition store belonging to Mr. Ahmar's fighters exploded Wednesday night, killing 28, Agence France-Presse reports.

Ahmar is the titular head of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation, which also includes Saleh's family. His younger brother Hussein bin Abdullah al-Ahmar was a former member of Saleh's government, but resigned from the ruling party in March and threw his weight behind the protesters, joining their calls for Saleh to step down. Saleh has reportedly called for the arrest of all 10 Ahmar brothers, whose fighters have captured about 70 members of Yemen's security forces and declared they won't stop fighting until Saleh resigns. (Editor's note: The original version misstated which Ahmar brother resigned from the ruling party.)

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