Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed defiance in the face of a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule on Tuesday, making a fleeting television appearance to disdain protesters and deny he had fled the country.
Gaddafi's forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators, with fighting now spreading to the capital Tripoli after erupting in Libya's oil-producing east last week. Human Rights Watch says at least 233 people have been killed.
But in increasing numbers, Libyan officials and diplomats have disowned Gaddafi, denouncing the hardline response to the revolt and calling for his removal. Some in his military also turned against him -- two pilots flew their warplanes to nearby Malta to defect rather than bomb protesters.
In his first appearance on television since the revolt broke out, Gaddafi dismissed reports he had fled to Venezuela.
"I want to show that I'm in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs," Gaddafi said, holding an umbrella and leaning out of a van apparently outside his residence in what amounted to a 22-second appearance.
"I wanted to say something to the youths at Green Square (in Tripoli) and stay up late with them but it started raining. Thank God, it's a good thing," added Gaddafi, who took power in a military coup in 1969.
World powers have condemned the use of force against protesters, with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accusing Libya of firing on civilians "from warplanes and helicopters".
"This must stop immediately," said Ban, adding he had spoken to Gaddafi and urged him to halt attacks on protesters. The Security Council was to hold a meeting on Libya later in the day, diplomats said.
As the fighting has intensified across the thinly populated nation stretching from the Mediterranean deep into the Sahara desert, cracks appeared among Gaddafi's supporters, with some ambassadors resigning and siding with the protesters.
"Army officers defect"
A group of army officers called on soldiers separately to "join the people".
Demonstrations spread to Tripoli after several cities in the east -- including Benghazi where the protests had first erupted -- appeared to fall to the opposition, according to residents.
Tripoli, a Mediterranean coastal city, appeared calm in the early hours of Tuesday.
"There is heavy rain at the moment, so people are at home," one resident said. "I am in the east of the city and have not heard clashes."
Residents had earlier reported gunfire in parts of Tripoli and one political activist said warplanes had bombed the city.
"What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead," Adel Mohamed Saleh said in a live broadcast on al Jazeera television.
Residents said anxious shoppers were queuing outside stores to try to stock up on food and drink. Some shops were closed.
Oil prices have soared on worries over instability in the OPEC member. Ninety percent of Libya's oil exports come from the eastern region of Cyrenaica, epicentre of the revolt.
International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist Fatih Birol said on Tuesday that oil prices were in the danger zone and could rise higher if turmoil persisted in the Middle East.
"Liplomats sided with protesters"
Upheavals which deposed the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt have shaken the Arab world and inspired protests across the Middle East and North Africa, threatening the grip of long-entrenched autocratic leaders.
While Human Rights Watch said at least 233 people had been killed in five days of violence in Libya, opposition groups put the figure much higher. No independent verification was available and communications from outside were difficult.
The United Nations' Ban told reporters in Los Angeles he held an extensive telephone discussion with Gaddafi on Monday.
"I forcefully urged him to stop violence against demonstrators," Ban said. "I have seen very disturbing and shocking scenes, where Libyan authorities have been firing at demonstrators from warplanes and helicopters. This is unacceptable. This must stop immediately."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was "time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed". EU foreign ministers also condemned the killing of protesters.
U.N. diplomats said the Security Council's closed-door meeting had been requested by Libyan deputy ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi and would start at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT).
Dabbashi and other diplomats at Libya's mission to the United Nations announced on Monday they had sided with protesters and were calling for Gaddafi's overthrow.
In Malaysia, protesters occupied the embassy briefly and smashed a portrait of Gaddafi.
"The fall of Gaddafi is the imperative of the people in streets," Ali al-Essawi, Libya's ambassador to India who has resigned his post, told Reuters. He said African mercenaries had been recruited to help put down protests.
Earlier, a group of army officers issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to "join the people" and help remove Gaddafi, Al Arabiya television said. The justice minister has also resigned in protest at the use of force.
Two Libyan fighter jets landed in Malta, their pilots defecting after they said they had been ordered to bomb protesters, Maltese government officials said.
Libyan guards have withdrawn from their side of the border with Egypt and people's committees were now in control of the crossing, the Egyptian army said, without making it clear if the groups now in control of the border were loyal to Gaddafi.
AgenciesLast Mod: 22 Şubat 2011, 12:05