SANA, Yemen — Tensions between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and an influential dissident general escalated Saturday amid fresh assaults that killed at least 40 people and injured scores.
The mounting violence came a day after Saleh abruptly returned from Saudi Arabia after nearly four months and called for a cease-fire and a return to negotiations to solve Yemen's crisis.
In a sternly worded statement, Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, whose forces control many parts of the capital, warned that Saleh was propelling the country toward civil war and urged the United States, Yemen's Persian Gulf neighbors and the international community to stop him.
Mohsen called Saleh "ignorant and bloodthirsty" and compared him to the Roman emperor Nero, who burned down his own city.
Mohsen's statement came shortly after mortar shells fell on the main base of his 1st Armored Division, killing 11 troops and injuring more than 100.
Saleh spokesman Ahmed al-Sufi denied that government forces were behind the assault.
In another part of the capital, government forces attacked Change Square — a sprawling camp where activists have staged an eight-month sit-in to end Saleh's 33-year reign — with mortar shells and heavy gunfire in Saturday's predawn darkness. Snipers shot at protesters and soldiers protecting the square. As many as 17 were killed and scores injured, according to medics at a makeshift hospital there. Hundreds were forced to flee.
"Seventy percent of the dead and injured were shot by snipers," said Mohammed al-Qubati, a medic who manages the hospital.
Interior Minister Mouthar al-Masri told reporters Saturday that eight government soldiers had been killed and dozens injured. He described the attack as the work of extremists.