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British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting neighboring Egypt, called the Libyan government’s crackdown “appalling.”

“The regime is using the most vicious forms of repression against people who want to see that country — which is one of the most closed and one of the most autocratic — make progress,” he told reporters in Cairo.

The heaviest fighting so far has been in the east. Security forces in Benghazi opened fire on Sunday on protesters storming police stations and government buildings. But in several instances, units of the military turned against them and sided with protesters.

By Monday, protesters had claimed control of the city, overrunning its main security headquarters, called the Katiba.

Celebrating protesters raised the flag of the country’s old monarchy, toppled in 1969 by a Gadhafi-led military coup, over Benghazi’s main courthouse and on tanks around the city.

Gadhafi needs one more push and he is gone,” said Amal Roqaqie, a lawyer at the Benghazi court, saying protesters are “imposing a new reality. … Tripoli will be our capital. We are imposing a new order and new state, a civil constitutional and with transitional government.”

Gadhafi’s son went on state TV in the early hours Monday with a sometimes confused speech of nearly 40 minutes, vowing to fight and warning that if protests continue, a civil war will erupt in which Libya’s oil wealth “will be burned.”

Moammar Gadhafi, our leader, is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are with him,” he said. “The armed forces are with him. Tens of thousands are heading here to be with him. We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet,” Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said.

He also promised “historic” reforms if protests stop. State TV said Monday he had formed a commission to investigate deaths during the unrest. Protesters ignored the vague gestures. Even as he spoke, the first clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the heart of Tripoli were still raging, lasting until dawn.

Fire raged Monday at the People’s Hall, the main building for government gatherings where the country’s equivalent of a parliament holds sessions several times a year, the pro-government news website Qureyna said.

It also reported the first major sign of discontent in Gadhafi’s government, saying Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil resigned to protest the “excessive use of force” against unarmed demonstrators.

There were reports of ambassadors abroad defecting. Libya’s former ambassador to the Arab League in Cairo, Abdel-Moneim al-Houni, who resigned his post Sunday to side with protesters, demanded Gadhafi and his commanders and aides be put on trial for “the mass killings in Libya.”

Gadhafi’s regime is now in the trash of history because he betrayed his nation and his people,” al-Houni said in a statement.

A Libyan diplomat in China, Hussein el-Sadek el-Mesrati, told Al-Jazeera, “I resigned from representing the government of Mussolini and Hitler.”

Two Mirage warplanes from the Libyan air force fled a Tripoli air base and landed on the nearby island of Malta, and their pilots — two colonels — asked for political asylum, Maltese military officials said.

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