Libyans hold a national flag from the period before Gaddafis coup in a security forces compound in Benghazi. (AP)
Cairo, Feb. 22 (AP): Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed to fight till his last drop of blood and roared at his supporters to take to the streets against protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech today after two nights of a bloody crackdown in the capital trying to crush the uprising that has fragmented his regime.
It was the second time Gaddafi has appeared during the week of upheaval across his country. Swathed in brown robes and a turban, he spoke on state TV from behind a podium at the entrance of his bombed-out Tripoli residence hit by US airstrikes in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.
At times the camera panned back to show a towering monument of a gold-coloured fist crushing an American fighter jet, outside the building. But at the same time, the view gave a surreal image of the Libyan leader, shouting and waving his arms wildly all alone in a broken-down lobby with no audience, surrounded by broken tiles dangling from the ceiling, shattered concrete pillars and bare plumbing pipes.
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 depicted the protesters as misguided youths, who had been given drugs and money by a small, sick group to attack police and government buildings. He called on supporters to take to the streets immediately to reimpose control and to attack the protest leaders.
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. They are taking your children and getting them drunk and sending them to death. For what? To destroy Libya, burn Libya.
The police cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them, he said, urging youth to form local committees across the country for the defence of the revolution and the defence of Gaddafi, even asking them to wear green armbands.
Let us show them what the popular revolution is like, he said. Go out from your homes starting now.
Forward, forward, forward! he barked at the speechs 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 a sharp escalation of bloodshed in the Libyan capital of 2 million people after two nights of clashes.
Streets in several neighbourhoods were littered with the bodies of slain protesters this morning after a fierce crackdown through the night, as pro-Gaddafi militiamen shot on sight anyone found outdoors to crush protests.
Streets in Tripoli were largely empty during the day today, except for residents venturing out to stock up on bread and other basics, wary of attacks by militiamen, said one resident. A helicopter was heard buzzing over downtown.
But he said protesters were gearing up to rally again after nightfall, likely to be confronted again by the militias. Everyone intends for tonight to be the decisive night.
The UN Security Council was holding an emergency meeting, and western diplomats pressed for it to demand an immediate halt to Gaddafis retaliation against protesters. With international condemnation mounting, nations around the world were scrambling for ways to get their citizens out of Libya, and oil prices surged.
The eruption of turmoil in the capital escalates a week of protests and bloody clashes in Libyas eastern cities that have shattered Gaddafis nearly 42-year grip on the nation.
Many cities in the east appeared to be under the control of protesters, including some oil-producing regions, as units of Gaddafis army defected. Protesters in the east claimed to hold several oil fields and facilities and said they were protecting them to prevent damage or vandalism. The regime has been hit by a string of defections by ambassadors abroad, including its UN delegation, and a few officials at home.
In response, Gaddafis security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
Anywhere from 233 to 250 people are known to have been killed so far, according to estimates by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Those numbers do not appear to include casualties from two days of deadly attacks on protesters in the capital, Tripoli a sign of the difficulty of getting information out of the highly closed North African nation.
A doctor in Benghazi told The Associated Press a colleague at Tripolis main hospital told him 41 people were killed in Tripoli during clashes on Sunday night alone, but the number could not be confirmed, and it was not known how many died on Monday.