Muammar Gaddafi has made a defiant address to the Libyan nation, saying he has no intention of stepping down as leader.

In a live, apparently unscripted speech on national television, the 68-year-old said, 'Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of a revolution; Muammar Gaddafi has no official position in order for him to resign. He is the leader of the revolution forever.'

'We Libyans have resisted the United States and Britain in the past. We will not surrender.'

In a rambling speech, he insisted he had the backing of the Libyan people. 'Capture the rats,' he said of anti-regime demonstrators.

'Go out of your homes and storm them, wherever they are.'

Reading from the green book of the revolution, Col Gaddafi said that under Libyan law the protestors deserved the death sentence.

Earlier, witnesses streaming across the Libyan border into Egypt said Col Gaddafi was using tanks, warplanes and mercenaries in an effort to stamp out the growing rebellion.

State forces have cracked down fiercely on anti-government demonstrators, with fighting now spreading to the capital Tripoli after erupting in the country's eastern cities last week.

Official death toll released by Gaddafi regime

This evening, the Libyan state released its first death toll figures, saying 300 people - 189 civilians and 111 soldiers - had been killed in the past week.

The largest number of fatalities were said to have been in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is where most of the violence has occurred, an interior ministry spokesman said.

104 civilians and 10 soldiers were killed in Bengazi, the Gaddafi regime said.

Opposition groups put the figure far higher. UN rights chief Navi Pillay said the killing could amount to crimes against humanity and has demanded an international probe.

The UN Security Council has condemned the use of violence in Libya and called for those responsible for attacks on civilians to be held to account.

The call came in a statement agreed by the 15-nation council after a day of debate on the clashes in the North African country.

Libyan diplomats, who have broken with Muammar Gaddafi, had demanded the meeting, and had called for a UN no-fly zone over the country as well as humanitarian action.

'There is even more concern after what was a very worrying speech by Muammar Gadafi,' a diplomat said before the meeting of the council.

Before this afternoon, Col Gaddafi had not made any formal statement since protests broke out, although he appeared on television briefly last night to deny rumours that he had fled to Venezuela.

Air corps to collect Irish citizens

Nine air corps personnel are to fly from Baldonnel Airport tonight to bring home 40 Irish citizens from Libya.

Two planes will leave for Malta where they will wait for an opportunity to fly to Libya to pick up the group.

France is sending three military planes to Tripoli to repatriate French nationals.

Around 750 French people live in Libya, and Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France's ambassador there would help them reach the airport safely.