TOBRUK, Libya — Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi vowed Tuesday to "die as a martyr" in his country rather than surrender power, as he sought to rally supporters against a growing popular uprising that has taken over much of eastern Libya and won the backing of some army units and government officials.
In a defiant, rambling speech in the capital, Tripoli, the army colonel who has ruled the North African nation for nearly 42 years appealed to supporters to take to the streets by the millions "in order to cleanse Libya, home by home, village by village," of what he called misguided movement inspired by foreigners.
But in a sign that his exhortations were falling on deaf ears, Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younis, the commander of a powerful commando brigade and one of Gadhafi's closest associates, announced his defection in the protester-held city of Benghazi and urged other military units to join the revolt, the Associated Press reported.
Gadhafi's justice minister also defected, along with several ambassadors, including the ambassador to the United States.
At the United Nations, the Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown and calling for an "immediate end to the violence" and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the violence and demanded that the Libyan government end it. She said the "entire international community" agrees that "the violence must stop."
Gadhafi's retaliation has already been the harshest in the Arab world to the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East. Nearly 300 people have been killed, according to a partial count by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
On Libya's eastern border with Egypt, the defections of police, border guards and soldiers were evident. Reporters were allowed to enter the country Tuesday without visa or passport controls.
Young defectors showed cell phone videos from eastern Libyan cities of Baida and Benghazi, where they said African "mercenaries" shot down scores of men, women and children. They told of rapes, looting and bloody killings over the past week.
In Benghazi, residents said Libya's second-largest city was under the control of the protesters and that the streets were calm on Tuesday.
The State Department said Tuesday it will begin evacuating American citizens from Tripoli by ferry to the Mediterranean island of Malta today. About 35 diplomats and their dependents and about 600 U.S. citizens were believed to be in Libya before the unrest began. Some airlines have canceled flights to Tripoli, and departing flights are overcrowded.
Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.