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50 killed in two days in Yemen

Thousands of protesters armed with sticks and backed by armed military defectors overran a base of the elite Presidential Guards in Yemen's capital as fighting erupted across much of Sanaa on Monday.

The death toll for the worst violence in months rose to nearly 50 in two days of clashes.

The protesters, joined by soldiers from the rebel 1st Armoured Division, stormed the base without firing a single shot and seized a large number of firearms, according to witnesses and security officials.

The anti-government force used sandbags to erect barricades as they advanced, providing their allied troops with the shelter they needed in case they took fire from inside the base. Republican Guards' troops did not fire at the protesters and eventually fled, leaving their weapons behind.

Violence has flared anew in Yemen in frustration after President Ali Abdullah Saleh dashed hopes raised by the US last week that he was about to relinquish power after 33 years of autocratic rule.

At least 23 were killed on Monday and 26 on Sunday, almost all of them protesters. Dozens have been wounded.

The fall of the base into protesters' hands is a significant development in the seven-month-old uprising against President Saleh, who went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after a June attack on his Sanaa compound and has not returned to Yemen since.

It signals what could be the start of a final showdown between the Republican Guards, led by President Saleh's son and heir apparent Ahmed, and the soldiers of the 1st Armoured Division, another elite outfit that has fought in all of Yemen's wars over the past two decades, and their tribal allies in the capital.

The Republican Guards and the Special Forces, also led by the president's son, have long been thought to be the regime's last line of defense and Monday's events could significantly help the protesters' cause against the regime.

The 1st Armoured Division, along with its commander, mutinied and joined the protesters about six months ago, dealing a serious blow to President Saleh's efforts to cling on to power in the face of the popular uprising.

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