, TRIPOLI, Feb 23 – Libya\’s Moamer Gadhafi vowed a fight to the death to crush an uprising against his four-decade rule as Western and Asian powers strived to evacuate their terrified nationals from the oil-rich nation.
"This is my country, my country," the veteran Libyan leader shouted, in a rambling and angry speech on national television Tuesday. "I will fight to the last drop of my blood."
The eccentric former army colonel, who has ruled the North African nation since 1969, said he would "die a martyr in the land of my ancestors" and urged his followers to demonstrate their support from Wednesday.
"Capture the rats," he said of anti-regime demonstrators. "Go out of your homes and storm them" wherever they are.
His dramatic intervention came as he fought against becoming the third veteran Arab leader to be toppled in a popular uprising after the presidents of neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia were both ousted in recent weeks.
As the Middle East turmoil pushed oil prices ever higher and convulsed stock markets worldwide, governments in Europe, Asia and the United States mobilised planes and ships to ferry their citizens out of Libya.
The Sunni rulers of Bahrain were confronted by fresh mass protests. The opposition said the Gulf state\’s monarchy had freed 23 Shiites who were accused of terrorism.
There was also fresh violence in Yemen, where supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, armed with daggers and batons, clashed with students in Sanaa.
Two students were killed and 11 wounded when supporters of the regime later opened fire on a sit-in at Sanaa University — the first deaths in the Yemeni capital since demonstrations began in the Arabian Peninsula nation.
Visiting Kuwait, British Prime Minister David Cameron said "reform, not repression" was the path to stability, while the EU said it was ready to loan its Arab neighbours six billion euros ($8.2 billion) in return for democratic reform.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped for a "flowering of liberty and democracy in the Arab world", while denouncing Iran for what he called an attempt to obstruct that goal.
But the main focus of attention was on Libya.
Peru became the first country to snap diplomatic ties with Tripoli, saying relations would be suspended "until the violence against the people ceases". That came after a spate of resignations by Libyan diplomats worldwide.
The Libyan interior ministry released the first official death toll since the unrest broke out a week ago, saying the disturbances had claimed 300 lives — 189 civilians and 111 soldiers.
Most fatalities were said to have been in the second city Benghazi, an opposition stronghold in the country\’s east.
Rights groups, however, have said the death toll could be as high as 400.
Britain\’s Times newspaper said it had footage of severely wounded and dead protesters in a Benghazi hospital that it said proved heavy weapons were being used to crush the uprising.
After three hours of consultations, the 15-member UN Security Council voiced "grave concern" at the events and demanded "an immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate concerns of the population".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel fretted about Kadhafi\’s "very scary" address, saying Berlin would consider sanctions unless he halted the crackdown. The veteran leader "has declared war on his own people", she added.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the "completely unacceptable" bloodshed, distancing Washington anew from Kadhafi, who was long a Western pariah before renouncing his drive for weapons of mass destruction.
But the president of Libya\’s parliament, Mohamed Zwei, said calm "has been restored in most of the large cities", adding that "security forces and the army have re-established their positions".
The air force has been strafing protesters, according to widespread reports, and thousands of foreigners were scrambling to leave the country.
Two planes carrying French nationals from Libya arrived in Paris early Wednesday with some 500 passengers aboard, who said thousands of foreigners were awaiting evacuation from Tripoli\’s packed airport.
China, which has emerged as a major investor across Africa, said it was sending a jet, ships and fishing vessels from nearby waters to help evacuate more than 30,000 Chinese living in Libya.
Bangladesh said it was looking at evacuation options for its estimated 60,000 migrant workers in Libya. India wants to get its 18,000 workers out.
"This is going to be quite a mammoth operation," Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said in New Delhi.
"We will have to not only put in place arrangements for aircraft or ships, but also obtain permission from Libyan authorities for our aircraft to land there."
The United States chartered a ferry and urged US citizens to get to the designated port in Tripoli "as soon as possible" early Wednesday.
Britain announced plans to send both a charter flight and to deploy a Royal Navy frigate, while Italy said 400 of its nationals had been flown out of its former colony.
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.
While there has been no uprising in the Middle East\’s number one producer, Saudi Arabia, neighbouring Bahrain faces a clamour for reforms.
Tens of thousands of supporters of Bahrain\’s Shiite-led opposition poured into a Manama square calling for the government\’s downfall in the largest rally in more than a week.
Protest leaders carried a large banner with the words "The march of loyalty to martyrs" and the photos of seven slain protesters.