TRIPOLI – Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi on Tuesday ordered his forces to crush an uprising that has rocked his 41-year rule, warning armed protesters they will be executed and vowing to fight to the end.
In a defiant, sometimes rambling television speech, Kadhafi vowed to remain in Libya as head of its revolution, saying he would die as a martyr in the land of his ancestors and fight to the “last drop” of his blood.
Proclaiming the support of the people, Kadhafi ordered the army and police to crush the popular uprising against his iron-fisted rule that has already left hundreds dead in the past eight days.
Ordering protesters to surrender their weapons immediately, saying there would be a “slaughter” otherwise, he threatened to purge Libya “house by house” and “inch by inch.”
The 68-year-old former army colonel said, “Moamer Kadhafi is the leader of a revolution; Moamer Kadhafi has no official position in order for him to resign. He is the leader of the revolution forever.”
“This is my country, my country,” he shouted, in a roughly 75-minute speech consisting of short, angry bursts of words, which he punctuated by shaking his fist or pointing his finger.
Despite widespread reports that army, police and militias had killed unarmed demonstrators indiscriminately, Kadhafi said “we have not yet used force.”
However, he said, “if the situation worsens we will use it in line with international law and Libya’s constitution.”
Kadhafi called on Libyans to demonstrate in a show of popular support on Wednesday. “Capture the rats,” he said of anti-regime protesters. “Go out of your homes and storm them” wherever they are.
“Any Libyan who carries arms against Libyans will be punished by death,” he thundered.
Despite his defiance, Kadhafi’s grip on Libya appeared increasingly shaky as ambassadors quit and fighter pilots defected, flying to Malta where they said they had refused to follow orders to fire on protesters.
Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke with Kadhafi by telephone on Tuesday, the Italian leader’s office said later without elaborating.
The Italian news agency ANSA said Berlusconi had urged a peaceful solution to the crisis and told Kadhafi that Italy was not arming protesters as stated by the Libyan leader in his speech.
In one of many demonstrations held Tuesday outside Libyan embassies across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, protesters burned an Italian flag in Valletta, Malta in anger at Rome’s ties with Kadhafi’s regime.
The international community responded to the speech by demanding Kadhafi halt violence against protesters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the crackdown as “completely unacceptable.”
“It is the responsibility of the government of Libya to respect the universal rights of their own people, including their right to free expression and assembly,” she said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Libyan leader had declared war on his own people.
“Kadhafi’s speech today was very scary as he has declared war on his own people,” she said, while warning Berlin would consider sanctions unless he ended the crackdown.
The Arab League said it has barred Tripoli from attending its meetings “until the Libyan authorities respond to demands, guaranteeing the security and stability of its people.”
Kadhafi’s sense of isolation was being underlined at a meeting of the UN Security Council, called after Libyan diplomats who have broken ranks from him called for a UN no-fly zone over the country and humanitarian action.
Although government restrictions have complicated the task of compiling a tally, Human Rights Watch said 233 had been killed in the uprising while the International Federation for Human Rights put the toll at between 300 and 400.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the authorities should immediately stop using violence, adding “widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity”.
There have been numerous reports by witnesses that the air force has been strafing protesters, and Pillay said an independent inquiry was needed.
The uprising flared up in the east last week, spreading to the capital on Monday, where protesters attacked police stations and the offices of the state broadcaster and set government buildings ablaze.
Residents of two districts in Tripoli said by telephone there had been “a massacre,” with gunmen “firing indiscriminately” in Tajura district.
Another in Fashlum said helicopters had landed what he called African mercenaries who opened fire on anyone in the street, killing many people.
Terrified expatriates were hunkered down with their families awaiting evacuation.
France said it was sending three air force planes to Tripoli to extract its nationals and Britain announced plans to send both a charter flight and a navy frigate to help evacuate citizens caught up in unrest.
Souhayr Belhassen, head of the International Federation for Human Rights, quoted witnesses as saying militias and security forces loyal to Kadhafi were “breaking down doors and pillaging” in a backlash against protestors.
“It is impossible to remove the corpses from the road; we are shot at from above,” one witness was quoted as telling a Libyan rights group.
On Monday, witnesses reported massacres in Tripoli after Libyan television announced armed forces were assaulting “dens of terrorists.”
But Kadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, denied reports the forces had bombarded Tripoli and Benghazi.