Tripoli: Moammar Gaddafi vowed to die in Libya as a martyr in an angry television address on Tuesday, as rebel troops said eastern regions had broken free from his rule in a burgeoning revolt.
“I am not going to leave this land, I will die here as a martyr,” Gaddafi said on state television, refusing to bow to calls from his own diplomats, soldiers and protesters clamouring in the streets for an end to his four decades at the helm.
“I shall remain here defiant,” said Gaddafi.
Earlier, witnesses streaming across the Libyan border into Egypt said Gaddafi was using tanks, warplanes and mercenaries in an effort to stamp out the growing rebellion.
In the eastern city of Tobruk, a Reuters correspondent there said sporadic blasts could be heard, the latest sign that Gaddafi’s grip on the oil and gas exporting nation was weakening.
“All the eastern regions are out of Gaddafi’s control now… The people and the army are hand-in-hand here,” said the now former army major Hany Saad Marjaa.
The White House offered its condolences for the “appalling violence” in Libya and said the international community had to speak with one voice on the crisis.
The UN refugee agency meanwhile urged Libya’s neighbours to grant refuge to those fleeing the unrest, which was triggered by decades of repression and popular revolts that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
On the Libyan side of the border with Egypt, anti-Gaddafi rebels armed with clubs and Kalashnikov rifles welcomed visitors. One man held an upside-down picture of Gaddafi defaced with the words “the butcher tyrant, murderer of Libyans”, a Reuters correspondent who crossed into Libya reported.
Hundreds of Egyptians flowed in the opposite direction on tractors and trucks, taking with them harrowing tales of state violence and banditry.
In the eastern town of Al Bayda, resident Marai Al Mahry told Reuters by telephone that 26 people including his brother Ahmed had been shot dead overnight by Gaddafi loyalists.
“They shoot you just for walking on the street,” he said, sobbing uncontrollably as he appealed for help.
Protesters were attacked with tanks and warplanes, he said.
“The only thing we can do now is not give up, no surrender, no going back. We will die anyways, whether we like it or not. It is clear that they don’t care whether we live or not. This is genocide,” said Mahry, 42.
Human Rights Watch said 62 people had died in clashes in Tripoli in the past two days, on top of its previous toll of 233 dead. Opposition groups put the figure far much higher. UN rights chief Navi Pillay said the killing could amount to crimes against humanity and demanded an international probe.
The revolt in Libya, the third largest oil producer in Africa, has driven oil prices to a two and a half year high above $108 a barrel, and OPEC said it would produce more crude if supplies from member Libya were disrupted.
Groups of rebels with assault rifles and shotguns, waved cheerily at the passing cars on a stretch of desert road, flicking the V-for-victory sign and posing with their guns, a Reuters correspondent reported.
One of the Libyans, mocking the personality cult cultivated by Gaddafi, pointed at graffiti which read: “No God, but Allah”.
Libyan security forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators across the country, with fighting spreading to Tripoli after erupting in Libya’s oil-producing east last week, in a reaction to decades of repression.
As the fighting has intensified some supporters have abandoned Gaddafi. Tripoli’s envoy to India, Ali al-Essawi, resigned and told Reuters that African mercenaries had been recruited to help put down protests.
“The fall of Gaddafi is the imperative of the people in streets,” he said. The justice minister also quit and a group of army officers urged soldiers to “join the people”. Two pilots flew their warplanes to nearby Malta.
Gaddafi’s son Saif on Sunday vowed his father would keep fighting “until the last man standing” and the Libyan leader appeared on television after days of seclusion to dismiss reports he had fled to the Venezuela of his ally Hugo Chavez.
“I want to show that I’m in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs,” said Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya with a mixture of populism and tight control since taking power in a military coup in 1969.
World powers have condemned the use of force against protesters, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accusing Libya of firing on civilians from warplanes and helicopters. The Security Council was to discuss Libya at 1400 GMT.
Washington and Europe have demanded an end to the violence and Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “A ruling family, threatening its people with civil war, has reached the end of the line.”
Demonstrations spread to Tripoli from the second city Benghazi, cradle of the revolt that has engulfed a number of towns and which residents say is now in the hands of protestors.
Residents said anxious shoppers were queuing outside stores to try to stock up on food and drink. Some shops were closed.
In Tripoli, one resident said locals were patrolling their neighbourhood at night to protect it from roaming mercenaries, reporting sniper fire and the use of military transport helicopters to ferry security forces about.
“Gaddafi obviously does not have any limits. We knew he was crazy, but it’s still a terrible shock to see him turning mercenaries on his own people and just mowing down unarmed demonstrators,” he told Lisa Goldman, a Canadian-Israeli journalist based in Tel Aviv.
Spain’s Repsol suspended all operations in Libya and sources said operations at cargo ports at Benghazi, Tripoli and Misurata had shut due to the violence.
Trade sources said Libyan oil port operations had also been disrupted and others said gas supplies from Libya to Italy had slowed since late Monday, though Italy said they had not yet been interrupted.
Shell said it was pulling out its expatriate staff from Libya temporarily and a number of states were seeking to evacuate their nationals.