Cairo: Roaring at his supporters to strike back against protesters, Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed he would fight to his ‘last drop of blood’.

The speech by the Libyan leader — who shouted and pounded his fists on the podium — was an all-out call for his backers to impose control over the capital, signaling an escalation of the crackdown that has thrown the capital into mayhem.

"You men and women who love Gaddafi ... get out of your homes and fill the streets," he said. "Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs."

Gaddafi screamed in his speech on state TV. His voice breaking, and he shook his fists — then switched to reading glasses to read from a green-covered law book, losing his train of thought before launching into a new round of shouting.

"Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world," he proclaimed, pounding his fist on the podium. "I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents. ... I will die as a martyr at the end," he said, vowing to fight "to my last drop of blood."

Gaddafi portrayed the protesters as misguided youths who had been given drugs and money by a "small, sick group". He said the uprising was fomented by "bearded men" — a reference to Islamic fundamentalists — and Libyans living abroad.

Global criticism pours in

International alarm rang over the Libyan crisis which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown. It expressed "grave concern" and called for an "immediate end to the violence".

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel called Gaddafi's speech "very, very appalling," saying it "amounted to him declaring war on his own people."

"This violence is completely unacceptable," added Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In New York, Libya's deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gaddafi to step down, said he had received information that Gaddafi's collaborators have started "attacking people in all the cities in western Libya."

Gaddafi'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.

Army denies airstrikes

In the early hours of Wednesday, several Libyan military officers held a news conference where in they described an effort to set the record straight on a number of issues.

Lt General Jibril al-Qadiki, an air force pilot, denied reports of airstrikes on civilians and said there had been strikes but only on ammunition warehouses after "rebels" used them. He named four storage areas in eastern Libya in desert areas, and insisted there were no people in those areas.

He also accused western countries, including the US, of providing logistics to the protesters aiming to "destroy Libya."

(With Agency inputs)