Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s dictator for more than 40 years, has defiantly declared he will not step down in his first real televised speech since anti-government protests began across the country last week. In the hour-long address, Gaddafi threatened to execute those he sees as enemies of the country and said he would remain the head of the revolution until he dies.

Gaddafi denied reports that the army, police, and military had killed demonstrators, maintaining “we have not yet used force” — “those killed were from the police and the army; they were not youth”. He said protesters who had apparently seized control of some cities and towns deserved to be punished in line with the law.

The crisis is continuing to unfold. Salem Gnan, a spokesman for the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, said eyewitnesses in Tripoli have told him the navy has opened fire on the capital.

“We have just heard that the military ships are bombing an area in Tripoli and many people have been killed although we don’t know how many at the moment because people have just called to tell us it is happening,” he said.

According to the first official figures just released by Gaddafi’s regime, 300 people have been killed since unrest broke out a week ago. It’s understood nearly half of the fatalities were said to have been in the city of Benghazi, where most of the violence has occurred.

The UN Security Council has condemned violence in Tripoli, calling for those responsible to be held accountable for their actions and for an immediate end to the continuing violence. They say in a statement:

“The members of the Security Council expressed grave concern at the situation in Libya. They 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. They called for an immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the population, including through national dialogue.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backs the call: “There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that violence must stop and that the government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of all its citizens and to support the exercise of those rights.” German chancellor Angela Merkel called Gaddafi’s address “very scary”, saying Berlin would consider sanctions unless he halted a crackdown on protesters.

This morning, Libya’s ambassador to the US, Ali Suleiman Ajuli, announced on US television that he no longer worked for Gaddafi: “I am calling for him to go and leave our people alone.”

With communication proving to be difficult, some first-hand reports are emerging on social network sites such as Twitter. The Guardian’s Iraq correspondent Martin Chulov is now inside Libya and tweeting —  one of just a few Western journalists who have breached the borders. “Brutilised and stagnant. #libya feels like iraq,” he tweeted.

The BBC’s Jon Leyne, another foreign journalist in the region, reports the eastern provinces of Libya appear to be in opposition hands — “with protesters flying the flag of the country’s pre-Gaddafi era”.

Meanwhile, according to Time reporter Robert Baer, a source close to the Gaddafi regime told him: “Gaddafi has ordered security services to start sabotaging oil facilities.” He reports: “They will start by blowing up several oil pipelines, cuttings off flow to Mediterranean ports. The sabotage, according to the insider, is meant to serve as a message to Libya’s rebellious tribes: It’s either me or chaos.”

Meanwhile in Bahrain, in the largest rally in more than a week of protests, tens of thousands of supporters of the Shiite-led opposition crammed into Manama square yesterday demanding the government step down. Protesters waving white-and-red Bahrain flags marched from Manama’s Bahrain Mall to Pearl Square chanting “the people want the fall of the regime”.

Bahrain’s ruling royal family has embarked on a constructive path to open political dialogue, with Bahrain’s king and crown prince releasing political prisoners, allowing peaceful demonstrations, and offering talks with opposition groups.

Clinton welcomed the news, saying “there is no place for violence against peaceful protesters”. She told reporters: “These steps will need to be followed by concrete actions and reforms.”

Seven people have reportedly been killed and hundreds injured in the violence that has swept across the country, inspired by the ousting of Egypt and Tunisia presidents.

And in Yemen, another nation fuelled by anti-government protests, two students have been shot dead and 11 injured by armed supporters of the government during a sit-in at Sanna University, demanding the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In the nationwide unrest, a Yemeni teenager was killed in a clash with soldiers in Aden on Monday, bringing the death toll to about 12. Demonstrators, also inspired by the overthrow of leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, have been protesting in the capital Sanna, demanding an end to Saleh’s 32-year rule.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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