The UN Security Council has condemned Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters and demanded an immediate end to the violence.

In a statement, all 15 council members expressed "grave concern" at the situation, condemning the violence and use of force against civilians. They "deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators," and expressed "deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians."

The council called for "steps to address the legitimate demands of the population, including through national dialogue."

The Security Council met in private Tuesday after security forces loyal to Gadhafi unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. In a speech Tuesday that followed the attacks on protesters, the dictator was defiant.

Council members said the Libyan government should "meet its responsibility to protect its population," act with restraint, and respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

Council members also asked that international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies be given immediate access, and they appealed for humanitarian assistance amid reports of shortages of medical supplies to treat the wounded.

The council underlined the need for the Libyan government to respect the rights to peaceful assembly, free expression and press freedom.

A turbulent past

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In 1969, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, then 27, led a successful coup against King Idris I. Gadhafi abolished the 1951 constitution and ruled along with a 12-member Revolutionary Command Council.

In the 1980s, Gadhafi and Libya were responsible for a number of notorious incidents. In 1986, after the U.S. blamed Libya for a bombing in a Berlin disco that killed two American servicemen, President Ronald Reagan ordered airstrikes against Tripoli.

In 1988, a bomb blew up a Pan American 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. Later investigations tied that bombing and the bombing of a French DC-10 over Niger that killed 170 to Libya.

In August 2003, Libya agreed to take responsibility for the actions of its agents in the Lockerbie bombing and paid $2.7 billion US to the families of the victims.

The council issued the statement hours after Gadhafi vowed in a television address to keep fighting to his "last drop of blood" and urged his supporters to take to the streets, setting the stage for even more deadly violence.

Libya's deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gadhafi to step down, said the council statement was "not strong enough" but was "a good message to the regime in Libya about 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 his speech earlier, Gadhafi called on his supporters Tuesday to "secure Libya's streets" and vowed to "cleanse Libya house by house" if anti-government protesters do not surrender.

In a rambling and furious hour-long address broadcast on state television, Gadhafi dismissed widespread reports of a violent crackdown on protesters demanding his ouster and insisted he would not relinquish control of his country's "revolution."

"Revolution means sacrifice, a continuous sacrifice until the end of one's life," Gadhafi said in Tripoli, the capital, standing in front of what appeared to be a bombed-out compound, the site of a U.S. airstrike in 1986.

"I will not leave the country. I will die as a martyr."

Gadhafi also claimed the protesters deserve a death sentence.

Protesters 'took drugs'

Moammar Gadhafi said the demonstrators are "serving the devil" and want to turn Libya into a "new Afghanistan" that would be occupied by the United States.

He also claimed youths involved in widespread street demonstrations in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi "took drugs" and are being "aided by foreign agencies." 

But despite witnesses and human rights groups describing the actions as a series of massacres, Gadhafi insisted he had "not yet ordered one bullet to be fired" to suppress the revolt. 

"When I do, everything will burn," he warned.

International leaders and even some Libyan officials have been calling on Gadhafi to rein in his security forces amid reports that warplanes and helicopters were used to fire on protesters in Tripoli on Monday. 

The precise death toll from the unrest in Libya is not clear, but Human Rights Watch estimated 233 people have died since Feb. 17. Opposition groups have said the death toll is much higher.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday called the violence "completely unacceptable." But President Barack Obama's administration has stopped short of criticizing Gadhafi personally or demanding that he step down.

The Arab League announced after Gadhafi's address that it has suspended Libya's membership and will halt the participation of Libyan delegates from all upcoming sessions.

Ambassador resigns

Also on Tuesday, Libya's ambassador to the United States said he no longer represents Gadhafi's "dictatorship regime."

Aji Aujali told ABC's Good Morning America that he is resigning from service to the regime but will continue to serve Libyans.

"I will never resign from serving our people until their voices reach the whole world, until their goals are achieved," he said.

Aujali said Gadhafi, who has ruled the country for more than 40 years, should "go and leave our people alone."

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population in Libya "may amount to crimes against humanity."

In a statement released Tuesday, she condemned the "callousness with which Libyan authorities and their hired guns are reportedly shooting live rounds of ammunition at peaceful protesters."

European Union, U.S. and Canadian officials have also expressed concern about the mounting violence in the North African state.

Littered with bodies

A Libyan opposition activist and a Tripoli resident told The Associated Press the streets of a restive district in the Libyan capital are littered with the bodies of scores of protesters shot dead by security forces loyal to Gadhafi.

Mohammed Ali of the Libyan Salvation Front and the resident said Tripoli's inhabitants are hunkering down at home Tuesday after the killings and warnings by forces loyal to Gadhafi that anyone on the streets would be shot.

Ali, reached in Dubai, and the Tripoli resident say forces loyal to Gadhafi shot at ambulances and some protesters were left bleeding to death. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Reports suggested that police were in control of the capital on Tuesday, while opposition groups were reportedly in control of Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city.

Benghazi residents, however, remained in fear of a regime backlash. One doctor in the city said Tuesday that many spent the night outside their homes, hearing rumours that airstrikes and artillery assaults were imminent, The Associated Press reported.

"We know that although we are in control of the city, Gadhafi loyalists are still here hiding and they can do anything anytime," he said.

Western media are largely barred from Libya and the reports couldn't be independently confirmed.

Foreigners flee

As the bloody unrest continues, governments are scrambling to send planes and ships to pick up their stranded citizens, with thousands of Turks crowding into a stadium to await evacuation and Egyptians gathering at the border to escape the chaos.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his country is deploying a warship off the coast of Libya for possible help in evacuating Britons from the country.

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Two civilian ferries from Turkey and one military ship were expected to arrive in Benghazi on Tuesday to evacuate about 3,000 Turkish citizens after the country was unable to get permission to land at the airport.

About 5,000 Egyptians have returned home from Libya by land and about 10,000 more are waiting to cross the Libya-Egypt border, an Egyptian security official said.

Egypt said it will also send six commercial and two military planes to repatriate thousands more citizens caught in the deadly revolt against the Gadhafi's regime.

With files from The Associated Press