TRIPOLI (AFP) – Strongman Mummer Gaddafi has called on Libyans to rally in a show of popular support on Wednesday, as his 41-year-old regime grew increasingly isolated amid a brutal crackdown against an insurrection.
Declaring he would die a martyr in Libya, Gaddafi threatened to purge opponents “house by house” and “inch by inch,” prompting international appeals for an end to the violence.
Libya’s government said 300 people, including 111 soldiers, had been killed in the protests, which erupted on February 15 after the rulers of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt were ousted in similar uprisings.
China, India, South Korea, France and the United States, among other countries, scrambled to evacuate their citizens from the turbulent north African nation, as the international community condemned the crackdown.
The UN Security Council “condemned the violence and use of force against civilians, deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators and expressed deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians.”
The 15-nation council — including Western powers, China, India and Russia — also called for action against those responsible for the bloodshed, which has made Libya’s the deadliest of a series of popular uprisings in the region.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon was returning to New York on Wednesday after he cut short a trip over Libya’s revolt and called for international efforts to insure a “prompt and peaceful transition.”
“The current situation is unpredictable and could go in any number of directions, many of them dangerous,” Ban said late Tuesday in a speech to a UN event in Los Angeles in which he announced he would return to New York.
In a defiant and rambling television speech on Tuesday, Gaddafi vowed to remain as leader, 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, Gaddafi ordered the army and police to crush the revolt against his iron-fisted rule that has already left hundreds dead in the past eight days.
“The Libyan people are with me,” he said, calling on them to demonstrate from Wednesday. “Capture the rats,” he said of anti-regime demonstrators. “Go out of your homes and storm them” wherever they are.
Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam was expected to hold a news conference, as reports emerged that the strongman’s family was feuding over the vast business empire that his regime built up since coming to power in 1969.
Britain’s The Financial Times reported Wednesday that Gaddafi ‘s children were fighting over some of the assets, citing communications between US officials obtained by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
Another British daily, The Times, said it had footage of severely wounded and dead protesters in a hospital in the eastern city of Benghazi proving heavy weapons were being used to crush the uprising.
Shocking footage of corpses with body parts blasted off and patients with almost completely severed torsos provided “incontrovertible evidence” that heavy artillery was used, Martin Fletcher, the newspaper’s associate editor said.
Nearly half of the fatalities were said to have been in second city Benghazi, the epicentre of the uprising against Gaddafi.
Army, police and militias have killed unarmed demonstrators indiscriminately, even to the point where air force planes strafed civilians, according to widespread reports.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the authorities should immediately stop using violence.
“Widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity,” he added.
In response, Peru suspended diplomatic ties with the country over the bloody crackdown, becoming the first nation to take such a measure.
But the 68-year-old Gaddafi, a former army colonel, showed no signs of relenting in his nationwide address.
“Mummer Gaddafi is the leader of a revolution; Mummer Gaddafi has no official position in order for him to resign. He is the leader of the revolution forever,” he said.
The president of the country’s parliament said calm “has been restored in most of the large cities,” adding that “security forces and the army have re-established their positions.”
Mohamed Zwei, president of the General People’s Congress, also said a commission of inquiry had been set up to investigate the nine-day revolt.
But despite his defiance, Gaddafi’s grip on Libya appeared to be slipping as his interior minister Abdel Fatah Yunes resigned and called on the armed forces to back the week-long rebellion against the veteran leader.
Numerous high level Libyan officials, including ministers, diplomats and military officers, have abandoned the regime and announced their support for the rebellion.
The latest to resign in protest was Salaheddin M. El Bishari, the Libyan ambassador to Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei, The Jakarta Post newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The turmoil in Libya, Africa’s fourth largest oil producer, sent crude prices soaring with Brent North Sea crude costing $108.57 per barrel at one stage, the highest level since September 2008.
In Asian trading Wednesday, Brent stood at $106.47 a barrel.
Libyan natural gas supplies to its ex-colonial master and top trade partner Italy were halted, prompting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to phone Gaddafi and urge him to pursue peace.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile condemned the regime’s “completely unacceptable” response.