TRIPOLI — Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called Tuesday for his supporters to take back the streets from anti-government protesters and vowed to fight on and die as a "martyr."
Gadhafi spoke as U.S. officials confirmed reports by NBC News' Richard Engel, who has managed to enter the country from Egypt, that part of the east of Libya has "fallen" to the protesters and was no longer controlled by the central government.
The officials confirmed that military units had defected to side with the protesters and that a major tribe crucial to the dictator's survival said they would not back Gadhafi because of his brutal treatment of the people.
Despite a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule, Gadhafi said in a rambling speech Tuesday that he would never leave the country where his grandfather and father were buried.Video: Libyan troops defy Gadhafi, side with protesters (on this page)
"I will die as a martyr at the end," he said. "I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired ... when I do, everything will burn."
Gadhafi's forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators, even using fighter jets to attack people on the ground in the capital Tripoli on Monday, according to witness reports.
On Tuesday, the Libyan army deployed a "large number" of soldiers in Sabratah, west of the capital Tripoli, after protesters destroyed security services offices, the online Quryna newspaper reported.
"I'm a fighter, I'm a struggler," Gadhafi said in a speech translated for msnbc, railing against "those agents, those rats" who had been stirring up trouble.
Top stories: Turmoil in the Middle East
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 and called on his supporters to fight the protest leaders.
"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."
Celebratory gunfire by Gadhafi supporters rang out in the capital of Tripoli after the leader's speech, while in protester-held Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, people threw shoes in contempt at a screen showing his address.
State TV showed a crowd of Gadhafi supporters in Tripoli's Green Square, raising his portrait and waving flags as they swayed to music after the address. Residents contacted by The Associated Press said no anti-government protesters ventured out of their homes after dark, and gun-toting guards manned checkpoints with occasional bursts of gunfire heard throughout the city.
The U.S. State Department has chartered a ferry to evacuate American travelers who want to leave Libya. The ferry was to depart Tripoli for Malta on Wednesday and was accepting U.S. citizens on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to those with medical conditions, NBC News reported.
Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya with a mixture of populism and tight control since taking power in a military coup in 1969, spoke from a podium set up at the entrance of a bombed out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence that was hit by U.S. airstrikes in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument.Video: Gadhafi vows to fight protesters (on this page)
In his speech, he referenced the U.S. bombing and how he had stood up to world powers.He said later that instability in the country would enable al-Qaida to use it as a base, Al-Jazeera television reported.
Late Tuesday, the Libyan minister of interior and an army general, Abdul Fatah Younis, described as "Gadhafi's No.2," resigned, according to media reports. He urged the army to join the people and respond to "their legitimate demands," Al-Jazeera reported.
"Gadhafi told me he was planning on using airplanes against the people in Benghazi, and I told him that he will have thousands of people killed if he does that," Younis told CNN in an Arabic-language telephone interview. Younis called Gadhafi "a stubborn man" who will not give up
A senior U.S. official told NBC News that some people within Ghadafi's circle of advisers are "no longer siding with him" and there is "potential for more" to abandon him.
The official says the U.S. still does not see an "imminent departure" by Ghadafi but said the defiance shown in Tuesday's speech and in the reaction to the speech gives them more concern about Ghadafi willingness to leave should his support evaporate.
U.S. analysis of the speech is that Ghadafi was aiming his speech not at the Libyan people but at his supporters, as a way of further energizing them to brutally defend the regime, the official told NBC News.
The International Federation for Human Rights said in a statement that the crackdown has led to "300 to 400 dead and thousands injured" since Feb. 15. It cited the Libyan League for Human Rights, which is a member of the federation.
"The toll is also likely to rise because of the shortage of medicine which the country is facing," the statement added.
The New York Times reported that witnesses likened the streets of Tripoli to a war zone with young demonstrators armed with stones facing militiamen and Bedouin tribesmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles. An anti-aircraft gun was outside the state television building, the Times said.
“It is extremely tense,” a witness told the paper. Story: What you need to know about the unrest in the Mideast
Gadhafi's Tuesday afternoon speech followed a bizarre 22-second appearance on television at 2 a.m. Tuesday, in which he scoffed at claims he had left the country.
"I want to show that I'm in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs," he said, holding an umbrella and leaning out of a car apparently outside his residence.
"I wanted to say something to the youths at Green Square (in Tripoli) and stay up late with them but it started raining. Thank God, it's a good thing," added Gadhafi.
City has 'fallen'
Engel, NBC News' chief foreign correspondent, said that after crossing the border into Libya, he had encountered only protesters and military defectors.
The city of Tubruk had "fallen," he reported, and troops in the area were siding with the protesters.
"All soldiers tell us they are with the people. … Army switched sides in this area," he said. "Soldiers tell us they refuse to fire on own people ... 'our army like Egypt. Won't kill its people,'" Engel wrote, quoting the troops.
As fighting has intensified across the thinly populated nation stretching from the Mediterranean deep into the Sahara desert, cracks have appeared among Gadhafi supporters, with some ambassadors resigning and calling for his removal.
"The fall of Gadhafi is the imperative of the people in streets," said Ali al-Essawi, Libya's ambassador to India after resigning his post. He told Reuters that African mercenaries had been recruited to help put down protests.
Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi accused the longest-serving Arab leader of committing genocide against his own people in the current crisis.
And 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.
Two air force pilots flew Monday to Malta to avoid taking part in attacks on Tripoli and claim asylum.
The justice minister also quit in protest at the use of force and a group of army officers called on soldiers to "join the people."
World leaders have expressed outrage at the "vicious forms of repression" used against the demonstrators.
U.N.: 'Immediate end to violence'
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's crackdown on anti-government protesters and demanded an immediate end to the violence.
A press statement agreed by all 15 council members expressed "grave concern" at the situation in Libya and condemned the violence and use of force against civilians.
The council called for an "immediate end to the violence" and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gadhafi to step down, said the council statement was "not strong enough" but was "a good step to stopping the bloodshed." He said he had received information that Gadhafi's collaborators have started "attacking people in all the cities in western Libya."
In London, a Libyan familiar with official thinking said Gadhafi wasn't bluffing and would do "everything" to keep control of the capital.
Noman Benotman, who returned to Britain on Monday evening after spending the past 10 days in Tripoli, helped lead an armed Islamist rebellion against Gaddafi in the mid-1990s but has since built ties to reformists as well as Libyan security services under a program of political reconciliation.
"I think really he will do another massacre to reinforce himself and send a message that 'I am very powerful, I am very strong'," Benotman told Reuters. "He will do everything possible to control the western parts of the country. He will stay and fight until the last day."
Pro-Gadhafi militia have been driving through Tripoli with loudspeakers, warning people not to leave their homes, witnesses said.
State TV said the military had "stormed the hideouts of saboteurs" and urged the public to back security forces.
Protesters called for a demonstration in Tripoli's central Green Square and in front of Gadhafi's residence, but witnesses in various neighborhoods described a scene of intimidation: Helicopters hovering above the main seaside boulevard and pro-Gadhafi gunmen firing from moving cars and even shooting at the facades of homes to terrify the population.
Youths trying to gather in the streets scattered and ran for cover amid gunfire, according to several witnesses, who like many reached in Tripoli by The Associated Press spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. They said people wept over bodies of the dead left in the street.Video: The many faces of Moammar Gadhafi (on this page)
Due to the chaos, foreign nationals from the U.S., Britain and other countries were fleeing the chaotic country.
On the Libyan side of the border with Egypt, anti-Gadhafi rebels armed with clubs and Kalashnikov assault rifles welcomed visitors. One man held an upside-down picture of Gaddafi defaced with the words "the butcher tyrant, murderer of Libyans", a Reuters correspondent who crossed into Libya reported.
Hundreds of Egyptians flowed out of Libya on tractors and trucks, telling harrowing tales of state violence and banditry.
The U.N. refugee agency urged Libya's neighbours to grant refuge to those fleeing the unrest.
Egypt's new military rulers, who took power following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, said the main crossing with Libya would be kept open round-the-clock to allow the sick and wounded to enter.
In the eastern town of Al Bayda, resident Marai Al Mahry told Reuters by telephone that 26 people including his brother Ahmed had been shot dead overnight by Gadhafi loyalists.
"They shoot you just for walking on the street," he said, sobbing uncontrollably as he appealed for help.
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Oil companies, including Italy's Eni, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and U.K.-based BP have also begun evacuating their expat workers or their families or both.
Fragmentation is a real danger in Libya, a country of deep tribal divisions and a historic rivalry between Tripoli and Benghazi.
The system of rule created by Gadhafi — the "Jamahiriya," or "rule by masses" — is highly decentralized, run by "popular committees" in a complicated hierarchy that effectively means there is no real center of decision-making except Gadhafi, his sons and their top aides.
An expert on Libya said she believed the regime was collapsing.
"Unlike the fall of the regime in Tunisia and Egypt, this is going to be a collapse into a civil war," said Lisa Anderson, president of the American University in Cairo.
A flamboyant figure with his flowing robes and bevy of female bodyguards, Gadhafi has long been accused by the West of links to terrorism and revolutionary movements.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan once called him a "mad dog" and sent planes to bomb Libya in 1986 and he was particularly reviled after the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, by Libyan agents in which 270 people were killed.
But this changed when Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction in order to secure an end its international isolation and a rapprochement with western governments keen to tap its oil wealth and other lucrative trade and investment deals.
NBC News' Robert Windrem, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.