Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi says anti-government protests will not force him out, and that he expects to die a "martyr" in Libya.
Mr. Gadhafi spoke on Libyan state television Tuesday in his first detailed address to the country since the bloody wave of demonstrations began. He urged his supporters to help defend Libya against people he called "gangs" and "terrorists." Clenching a green book that appeared to be a guide to his political philosophy, he threatened the death penalty for anyone who takes up arms against Libya or engages in espionage.
Also Tuesday, one of Mr. Gadhafi's closest associates, Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younis, announced his defection and support for the "February 17 revolution." Speaking to Al Jazeera television from the protester-held eastern city of Benghazi, Younis urged other armed forces to join the people and their "legitimate demands."
Numerous high-level Libyan officials, including ministers, diplomats and military officers, have abandoned the regime and announced their support for the rebellion.
Meanwhile, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pasco, said United Nations staff in Libya have seen aircraft and helicopters flying but could not confirm attacks against civilians. Lynn Pasco, speaking in New York, said the U.N. fears crimes against humanity have been committed in the North African nation and that the situation is deteriorating.
Libya's ambassador to the U.N. said the country's air force has not attacked civilians, but he acknowledged that most of Libya's eastern provinces are under the control of anti-regime forces. Abdurrahman Shalgham also said Libya's public prosecutor has begun an investigation into the deaths of protesters.
Witnesses in Tripoli say Libyan helicopter gunships and warplanes struck civilian areas Monday, while African mercenaries and pro-Gadhafi gunmen opened fire indiscriminately to terrorize the population. Human Rights Watch said it has received reports of at least 62 deaths in Tripoli since Sunday, on top of its previous toll of 233 dead, mostly in the country's eastern provinces.
The reports could not be independently confirmed because Libya has barred the entry of foreign journalists and cut some communication networks in the country.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday offered its condolences to the victims. White House spokesman Jay Carney condemned Libyan authorities for practicing "appalling violence" against the population.
Libyan diplomats in several countries say they have severed relations with Mr. Gadhafi to protest attacks by his forces on protesters. Libya's ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali, called on the Libyan leader to step down. The Libyan ambassadors to India and Indonesia and a senior diplomat in China have all resigned.
Libya's embassies in Malaysia and Australia said they no longer represent Mr. Gadhafi. His Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil resigned Monday in protest at the crackdown, while two Libyan fighter pilots flew their jets to Malta, saying they had defected after being ordered to attack demonstrators.
The protests represent the greatest challenge to Mr. Gadhafi's rule since he took power in 1969.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.