Originally published February 25, 2011 at 6:20 a.m., updated February 25, 2011 at 10:57 a.m.
Libya's Moammar Gadhafi made a surprise appearance in the capital in which he told a crowd of supporters that together they would "defeat any foreign attempt" to overthrow his regime.
Dressed in a fur cap, Gadhafi spoke from atop a wall overlooking Tripoli's Green Square — blocks from where Libyan troops and militias reportedly had opened fire on protesters hours earlier. The Libyan leader pumped his fist as he exhorted the country's youth to "dance and sing, joy and rejoice" and to "stay up all night," telling them in remarks broadcast on Al-Jazeera that "life without dignity is worthless."
"We will continue to fight. We will defeat them. We will die here on the dear soil of Libya," Gadhafi said.
The disjointed tone of his remarks echoed Gadhafi's comments to state TV on Wednesday in which he blamed the popular rebellion on Osama bin Laden and youths hooked on drugs provided by al-Qaida.
Earlier, protesters chanting anti-Gadhafi slogans as they streamed out of mosques near the square and other districts were confronted by gunmen on rooftops who shot at them from above, several witnesses told The Associated Press.
One witness said Gadhafi supporters were speeding through some streets in vehicles, and residents hiding in their homes also reported the sound of gunfire in other parts of the capital. Others said they saw a number of people killed, but the reports could not be immediately confirmed.
The call for regime opponents to march from mosques after Friday prayers was the first attempt to hold a major anti-Gadhafi rally in the capital since militiamen launched a bloody crackdown on marchers early in the week that left dozens dead.
The unrest in Libya was echoed throughout much of the Arab world as tens of thousands turned out for anti-government protests in Yemen, with similar demonstrations in Jordan and Iraq. In Egypt, people gathered in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square on Friday to maintain pressure on their new rulers to make promised changes.
'We Win Or Die'
In rebel-held Benghazi, Libya — where the anti-Gadhafi uprising began Feb. 15 — thousands of people gathered outside a courthouse for prayer services and protest. With most of eastern Libya under opposition control, protesters said they want to help liberate the people of Tripoli. Many carried signs declaring, "East and West, we fight together with zest" and "We do not surrender. We win or die."
"There is a real feeling of solidarity here," NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported from Benghazi. "They don't want this country to be split — they want a unified Libya, free and democratic."
Muslim cleric Sameh Jaber, wearing the traditional Libyan white robe and a red cap, told worshippers in Benghazi that Libyans "have revolted against injustice" and called for revenge against Gadhafi, who has ruled their country with an iron fist for 42 years "because of what he did to the Libyan people."
Opposition fighters managed to force all pro-Gadhafi forces out of Benghazi in a scant week, and the coastal city's transformation into the headquarters of revolution appeared complete, with rebels establishing municipal services all the way down to garbage collection.
"There is now a concerted effort to push law and order here," Garcia-Navarro said. "They are trying to make this city basically the capital of free Libya."
Gadhafi's crackdown — the harshest by any Arab leader in the wave of protests that has swept the Middle East in the past month — has so far helped him maintain control of Tripoli, home to about a third of Libya's 6 million population. But the uprising has raised the specter of civil war and concerns in the West.
Mercenaries and Libyan militiamen loyal to Gadhafi have fought fiercely to quash the uprising against his rule, which has seemed to slip further by the day.
In the third-largest city of Misrata, one witness said police had disappeared from the streets, and a committee had been formed to run things after anti-government forces seized the city from pro-Gadhafi militiamen. Seven people died in the fighting, according to a medical official.
"Now it is calm, but there are worries that the government is preparing lots of security forces and that there will be a massacre today," the witness said. "We are spread out all over the city, and the youths are in control."
The man, who like other residents and officials spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said a protest was planned later Friday in Misrata, which lies about 120 miles from the capital. He said a small group of youths might be dispatched to Tripoli after the opposition movement called for protesters to march on the capital, but that others would stay behind to protect their city amid rumors that the regime planned to attack again.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the death toll in Libya at nearly 300, according to a partial count. Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said estimates of some 1,000 people killed were "credible."
Ferry Bearing Americans Heads For Malta
A ferry carrying hundreds of U.S. citizens and other foreigners left Tripoli's As-Shahab port on Friday bound for Valetta, Malta. Passengers have been aboard the catamaran Maria Dolores since Wednesday, but high seas prevented it from leaving. The voyage to Malta was expected to take some eight hours, according to Hanri Salia, managing director of Virtu Ferries, which leased the ferry to the U.S. government.
"More than 300 passengers are on board the U.S.-chartered ferry from Libya to Malta," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a tweet. "Additional passengers were added before departure."
Tens of thousands of others were trying to flee Libya, with Turks and Chinese climbing aboard ships by the thousands. An estimated 30,000 Chinese live in Libya, working on dams, roads and other infrastructure projects, and Beijing dispatched a navy ship to support the evacuation of its citizens.
Europeans were mostly boarding evacuation flights, while scores of North Africans raced to border crossings in overcrowded vans.
NATO leaders held an emergency meeting on Friday in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss the deteriorating situation in Libya.
In a written statement after the meeting, the alliance's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said NATO "will continue to monitor the situation closely in coordination with the other international institutions and will continue to consult in order to be prepared for any eventuality."
In Geneva, the entire Libyan diplomatic mission to the United Nations resigned en masse Friday. Abdel Shaltut, the second secretary at Libya's U.N. mission, asked the U.N. Human Rights council to stand for a moment of silence to "honor this revolution." He received a standing ovation for what council members called an act of courage.
Earlier, Libya's ambassadors to France and Jordan joined several other diplomats in recent days who severed ties with the Gadhafi regime.
Thousands Take To The Streets Again In Egypt
Thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to keep pressure on the country's new military rulers to carry out reforms and dismiss holdovers from ousted President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
Although Mubarak resigned two weeks ago, it's clear that many Egyptians believe their revolution is still ongoing. A sea of demonstrators from all segments of society bore signs and stickers declaring their demands: repealing emergency laws, releasing political prisoners, reforming the constitution and removing members of Mubarak's regime from power.
The downtown square was the epicenter of the 18-day uprising that brought down Mubarak. The Egyptian military assumed power, but has assigned government affairs to a caretaker Cabinet until elections can be held.
Demonstrators said Friday that they are worried the army is not moving quickly enough to implement reforms. They plan to hold a mass gathering in Tahrir Square every Friday until their demands are met.
A 'Day Of Rage' In Iraq
Protesters marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq in what protesters billed as a "Day of Rage" on Friday — the largest and most violent anti-government protests in recent weeks.
Security forces in most cities were imposing curfews restricting all movement as a result of the protests, which have been fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services.
At least 14 people were killed, including several who died when police trying to push back crowds opened fire in two northern Iraqi cities.
In the capital, Baghdad, demonstrators threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops after knocking down concrete blast walls protecting a bridge to the fortified Green Zone.
"We want a good life like human beings, not like animals," Baghdad protester Khalil Ibrahim, 44, told the AP.
The center of Baghdad was virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the concern of Iraqi officials that demonstrations here could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.
Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted "No to unemployment" and "No to the liar al-Maliki," referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
In the northern city of Mosul, demonstrators demanding jobs and better services tried to burn the regional government headquarters. The governor of the southern city of Basra resigned after thousands protested there.
Yemeni Protesters Prepare For Mass Rally
Tens of thousands of people in Yemen were gathering in a main square in the capital, Sanaa, for Friday prayers that were expected to be followed by mass protests to demand that the country's president be removed.
Witnesses said the protesters were pouring into a square near the main gates of Sanaa University for the demonstrations amid a tight security presence.
Yemen's U.S.-backed leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has been in power for 32 years. On Wednesday, Saleh said he had ordered his security services to protect protesters, stop all clashes and prevent direct confrontation between government supporters and opponents.
Jordan's Opposition Leaders Issue Warning
The leader of Jordan's largest opposition group warned Friday that the public's patience is wearing thin with the government's "slow" moves toward reform.
Hamza Mansour spoke to 4,000 Jordanian protesters, the largest crowd yet to take to the streets of downtown Amman for the pro-reform cause. Jordanians have now been holding protests for eight consecutive Fridays.
He urged officials to act more quickly to give Jordanians a bigger say in politics and allow them to elect their prime minister, who is currently selected by King Abdullah II.
With reporting from NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Benghazi, Jason Beaubien and Merrit Kennedy in Cairo, Kelly McEvers in Baghdad and Teri Schultz in Brussels. This story contains material from The Associated Press.