TRIPOLI // The Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi vowed to "die as a martyr" last night and ordered his loyalists to take to the streets and crush protesters demanding his removal.
The rambling, 75-minute diatribe followed two nights of bloody violence in the capital as Col Qaddafi tried to crush the uprising that has fragmented his regime.
Swathed in brown robes and wearing a turban, he spoke on state TV from behind a podium in the entrance of his bombed-out Tripoli residence. The building was hit by a US air strike in 1986 and left unrepaired as a gesture of defiance.
At times the camera panned back outside the building to show a sculpture of a gold-coloured fist crushing an American jet. The view provided a surreal image of the Libyan leader, shouting and gesticulating wildly, all alone in a partially demolished hallway, with no audience.
"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".
Col Qaddafi described the protesters as misguided youths who had been given drugs and money by a "small, sick group" to attack police and government buildings.
"You men and women who love Qaddafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets," he said. "Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs. They are taking your children and getting them drunk and sending them to death. For what? To destroy Libya, burn Libya."
"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.
His call could signal an escalation of bloodshed in the capital of two million people. Streets in several neighbourhoods were littered with the bodies of protesters yesterday after a fierce clampdown through the night, as pro-Qaddafi militiamen shot anyone found outdoors.
However, parts of Eastern Libya are no longer under Col Qaddafi's control. Egypt's army said Libyan border guards had been withdrawn, with Libya's side of the border controlled by "people's committees".
Residents of the border city of Tobruk said it was in the hands of the people and had been for three days.
"All the eastern regions are out of Qaddafi's control … the people and the army are hand-in-hand here," a former army major said. One protester at the border held up a photo of Col Qaddafi and defaced it with the words "the butcher tyrant, murderer of Libyans".
Demonstrations spread to Tripoli from Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the cradle of the revolt that has engulfed a number of towns that residents say are now in the hands of protesters.
The Italian oil and gas company Eni suspended some of its Libyan production, including the pipeline that supplies about 10 per cent of Italy's natural gas. The Spanish oil company Repsol YPF said it was suspending operations in the country. All Libyan ports, including Zawia, Tripoli, Benghazi and Misurata, have been closed, traders in the country said.
The Gulf Cooperation Council yesterday denounced Libya for alleged "genocide" against protesters. Abdulrahman al Attiyah, the head of the group of six Gulf states, "strongly denounces acts of violence perpetrated by the Libyan regime against the Libyan people" who are being subject to "an act of genocide", a statement on the GCC website said.
In New York, UN Security Council diplomats condemned the violence last night and discussed imposing a no-fly-zone on Libya's air force.
As Libya's international envoys rebelled against Col Qaddafi, Tripoli's UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, said he was standing by his old "school friend" and rejected calls for a war crimes probe or other Security Council action. "I expect him to take some brave and clear decisions soon," Mr Shalgham said. He denied that Libya had hired African mercenaries or bombed protesters.
Ibrahim Dabbashi, deputy ambassador and second in command at Libya's mission, broke with Tripoli and urged the UN to establish a "no-fly zone" around the country and block mercenaries and weapons from reaching the government.
Mr Dabbashi called for Col Qaddafi's resignation, accused his regime of "genocide" and asked for an emergency meeting of the Human Rights Council to probe rights violations.
Meanwhile, foreigners were fleeing Libya. About 10,000 Egyptians were massed at the border with Libya, as hundreds of expatriates, mostly from Tunisia and Egypt, scrambled for flights out of Tripoli.
The Netherlands said it was sending a military transport plane to Tripoli to fly out its nationals, Greece chartered a private tanker and made plans for an airlift along with Ukraine, and Germany kept up its own evacuation flights.
The British prime minister David Cameron, on a visit to Kuwait, said "reform, not repression" was the way to guarantee stability in the Arab world. "Using force cannot resolve grievances, only multiply them," he warned.
Souhayr Belhassen, head of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), said militias and security forces loyal to Col Qaddafi were "breaking down doors and pillaging" to quell the revolt.
During his speech last night, Col Qaddafi said he had not ordered police to use any force used against protesters, and that his supporters had come out voluntarily to defend him.
"I haven't ordered a single bullet fired," he said, warning that if he does, "everything will burn".
He said that if protests did not end he would stage a "holy march" with millions of supporters to cleanse Libya. He demanded that protesters in Benghazi hand over weapons taken from captured police stations and military bases, warning of separatism and civil war.
"No one allows his country to be a joke or let a mad man separate a part of it," he declared.
The German chancellor Angela Merkel last night described Col Qaddafi's speech as "very scary" and said Berlin would consider sanctions unless he halted the violence against protesters. "We are calling on the Libyan authorities to stop the violence against their own people," Merkel told reporters at a joint press conference with Greece's prime minister George Papandreou. "If the violence does not stop … we will consider sanctions," she added.
Mrs Merkel said the reports being received of the situation on the ground in Libya were "extremely worrying". "Muammar Qaddafi's speech today was very scary as he has declared war on his own people," she said.
The Arab League said in a statement last night it had barred Libya from attending its meetings until Tripoli responds to the demands of anti-regime protesters.
The League has decided to "stop the government of Libya from participating in meetings of the Arab League and all bodies affiliated to it until the Libyan authorities respond to demands, guaranteeing the security and stability of its people," it said.
* With additional reporting by Jamers Reinl at the United Nations, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse