A defiant Muammar Gaddafi vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood" and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime Tuesday, signaling an escalation of the crackdown that has thrown the capital into scenes of mayhem, wild shooting and bodies in the streets.
The speech by the Libyan leader - who shouted and pounded his fists on the podium - was an all-out call for his backers to impose control over the capital and take back other cities. After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya's 1,000-mile Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.
"You men and women who love Gaddafi ... get out of your homes and fill the streets," he said. "Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs."
Celebratory gunfire by Gaddafi supporters rang out in the capital of Tripoli after the leader's speech, while in protester-held Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, people threw shoes at a screen showing his address, venting their contempt.
State TV showed a crowd of Gaddafi supporters in Tripoli's Green Square, raising his portrait and waving flags as they swayed to music after the address. Residents contacted by The Associated Press said no anti-government protesters ventured out of their homes after dark, and gun-toting guards manned checkpoints with occasional bursts of gunfire heard throughout the city.
International alarm rose over the crisis, which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years on Tuesday and sparked a scramble by European and other countries to get their citizens out of the North African nation. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown, expressing "grave concern" and calling for an "immediate end to the violence" and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel called Gadhafi's speech "very, very appalling," saying it "amounted to him declaring war on his own people." Libya's own deputy ambassador at the UN, who now calls for Gaddafi's ouster, has urged the world body to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to protect protesters.
"This violence is completely unacceptable," added Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Gaddafi's retaliation has already been the harshest in the Arab world to the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East. Nearly 300 people have been killed, according to a partial count by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
In two nights of bloodshed, Tripoli residents described a rampage by pro-Gadhafi militiamen - a mix of Libyans and foreign mercenaries - who shot on sight anyone found in the streets and opened fire from speeding vehicles at people watching from windows of their homes.
In a sign of the extent of the breakdown in Gaddafi's regime, one of his closest associates, Abdel Fattah Younis, his interior minister and commander of the powerful Thunderbolt commando brigade, announced in Benghazi that he was defecting and other armed forces should join the revolt.
"I gave up all my posts in response to the February 17 Revolution and my conviction that it has just demands," Younis, who was among the army officers who joined Gadhafi in his 1969 coup, told Al-Jazeera, referring to the date of the start of the protests.
'I will die as a martyr'
The performance by Gaddafi on state TV Tuesday night went far beyond even the bizarre, volatile style he has been notorious for during nearly 42 years in power. Swathed in brown robes and a turban, wearing reflective sunglasses, he at times screamed, his voice breaking, and shook his fists - then switched to reading glasses to read from a green-covered law book, losing his train of thought before launching into a new round of shouting.
"Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world," he proclaimed, pounding his fist on the podium. "I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents. ... I will die as a martyr at the end," he said, vowing to fight "to my last drop of blood."
Gaddafi portrayed the protesters as misguided youths, who had been given drugs and money by a "small, sick group" to attack police and government buildings. He said the uprising was fomented by "bearded men" - a reference to Islamic fundamentalists - and Libyans living abroad.
He urged supporters to take to the streets to attack demonstrators, saying police would not interfere.
"Go out and fight them," he added, urging youth to form local committees across the country "for the defense of the revolution and the defense of Gaddafi."
"Forward, forward, forward!" he barked at the speech's conclusion, pumping both fists in the air as he stormed away from the podium. He was kissed by about a dozen supporters, some in security force uniforms. Then he climbed into a golf cart-like vehicle and puttered away.
In New York, Libya's deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gaddafi to step down, said he had received information that Gaddafi's collaborators have started "attacking people in all the cities in western Libya." He said those being attacked are unarmed. He said Gadhafi was using foreign mercenaries to fight protesters.
"I think the genocide has started now in Libya," Dabbashi said. "The Gaddafi statement was just code for his collaborators to start the genocide against the Libyan people. It just started a few hours ago. I hope the information I get is not accurate but if it is, it will be a real genocide."
Libyans were critical of what they saw as the lack of a forceful international response.
Dabbashi said the Security Council statement was "not strong enough" but was "a good step to stopping the bloodshed."
Gaddafi's call for a popular attack on protesters reflected the deeply unstable nature of the system he has created over his rule - the longest of any current Arab leader. He has long kept his military and other security forces relatively weak, fearing a challenge to his rule and uncertain of loyalties in a population of multiple tribal allegiances.
Protests in Libya (Photo: AFP)
Oil companies suspend production
The first major protests to hit an OPEC country - and major supplier to Europe - sent oil prices to $95.42 per barrel. Only a small amount of Libya's oil production appeared to have been affected, though analysts fear that revolts will spread to OPEC heavyweights like Iran. Libya holds the most oil reserves in Africa.
Two oil companies on Tuesday suspended production in the country: Italy's Eni - the biggest energy producer in Libya, producing about a quarter of its exports - and Spain's Repsol-YPF, which produced 34,777 barrels in the country last year, about 3.8 percent of national output. A string of international oil companies have begun evacuating their expatriate workers or their families.
Since Sunday, the fiercest fighting has been in Tripoli, the center of Gadhafi's rule.
At least 62 people were killed in violence in the capital since Sunday, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, but it cautioned that that figure came from only two hospitals. That comes on top of at least 233 people killed across the so far in the uprising, counted by the group from hospitals around the country.
The head of the UN human rights agency, Navi Pillay, called for an investigation, saying widespread and systematic attacks against civilians "may amount to crimes against humanity."
In the early hours of Wednesday, several Libyan military officers held a news conference with Libyan journalists broadcast on state television in what they described as an effort to set the record straight on a number of issues.
Lt. General Jibril al-Qadiki, an air force pilot, denied reports of airstrikes on civilians and said there had been strikes but only on ammunition warehouses after "rebels" used them. He named four storage area in eastern Libya in desert areas, and insisted there were no people in those areas.
He also accused western countries, including the US, of providing logistics to the protesters aiming to "destroy Libya."
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