Gadhafi vows to fight on, die a martyr

This image broadcast on Libyan state television Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011, shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as he addresses the nation in Tripoli, Libya. Col. Gadhafi vowed to fight on against protesters demanding his ouster and die as martyr. (AP Photo/Libya State Television via APTN)This image broadcast on Libyan state television Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011, shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as he addresses the nation in Tripoli, Libya. Col. Gadhafi vowed to fight on against protesters demanding his ouster and die as martyr. (AP Photo/Libya State Television via APTN)

CAIRO (AP) — Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight on to his “last drop of blood” and roared at his supporters to take to the streets against protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech Tuesday after two nights of a bloody crackdown in the capital trying to crush the uprising that has fragmented his regime.

It was the second time Col. Gadhafi has appeared during the week of upheaval across his country. Swathed in brown robes and a turban, he spoke on state TV from behind a podium in the entrance of his bombed-out Tripoli residence hit by U.S. air strikes in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

At times the camera panned back to show a towering monument of a gold-colored fist crushing an American fighter jet, outside the building. But at the same time, the view gave a surreal image of the Libyan leader, shouting and waving his arms wildly all alone in a broken-down lobby with no audience, surrounded by broken tiles dangling from the ceiling, shattered conrete pillars and bare plumbing pipes.

Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world,” he proclaimed, pounding his fist on the podium. “I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end,” he said, vowing to fight “to my last drop of blood.”

Col. Gadhafi depicted the protesters as misguided youths, who had been given drugs and money by a “small, sick group” to attack police and government buildings. He called on supporters to take to the streets immediately to reimpose control and to attack the protest leaders.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appeared for less than a minute on state television on early Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011, and made brief remarks to say he was in the capital Tripoli and deny rumors he had to fled to Venezuela amid the unrest sweeping his country. (AP Photo/Libyan State Television)

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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appeared for less than a minute on state ... more >

“You men and women who love Gadhafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs. They are taking your children and getting them drunk and sending them to death. For what? To destroy Libya, burn Libya.”

“The police cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them,” he said, urging youth to form local committees across the country “for the defense of the revolution and the defense of Gadhafi,” even asking them to wear green armbands.

“Let us show them what the popular revolution is like,” he said. “Go out from your homes starting now.”

“Forward, forward, forward!” he barked at the speech’s conclusion, pumping both fists in the air as he stormed away from the podium. He was kissed by about a dozen supporters, some in security force uniforms. Then he climbed into a golf cart-like vehicle and puttered away.

His call could signal a sharp escalation of bloodshed in the Libyan capital of 2 million people after two nights of clashes. Streets in several neighborhoods were littered with the bodies of slain protesters Tuesday morning after a fierce crackdown through the night, as pro-Gadhafi militiamen shot on sight anyone found outdoors to crush protests.

Streets in Tripoli were largely empty during the day Tuesday, except for residents venturing out to stock up on bread and other basics, wary of attacks by militiamen, said one resident. A helicopter was heard buzzing over downtown.

But he said protesters were gearing up to rally again after nightfall, likely to be confronted again by the militias. “Everyone intends for tonight to be the decisive night.”

The U.N. Security Council was holding an emergency meeting, and Western diplomats pressed for it to demand an immediate halt to Gahdafi’s retaliation against protesters. With international condemnation mounting, nations around the world were scrambling for ways to get their citizens out of Libya, and oil prices surged.

The eruption of turmoil in the capital escalates a week of protests and bloody clashes in Libya’s eastern cities that have shattered Gadhafi’s nearly 42-year grip on the nation.

Many cities in the east appeared to be under the control of protesters, including some oil-producing regions, as units of Col. Gadhafi’s army defected. Protesters in the east claimed to hold several oil fields and facilities and said they were protecting them to prevent damage or vandalism. The regime has been hit by a string of defections by ambassadors abroad, including its U.N. delegation, and a few officials at home.

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