Muammar Al-Gaddafi, 68, in his latest adress to the nationan, now accused residents of the town of Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, of siding with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "You in Zawiyah turn to Bin Laden," he said. "They give you drugs. It is obvious now that this issue is run by Al-Qaeda," he said, addressing the town's elders. "Those armed youngsters, our children, are incited by people who are wanted by America and the Western world. They have guns, they feel trigger happy and they shoot especially when they are stoned with drugs."
Gaddafi this time spoke by telephone to the tv from an undisclosed location in an intervention that lasted barely 20 minutes. His decision to speak by telephone rather than make an on-screen appearance has raised questions about his whereabouts, and indicates that his power base may be shrinking.
In Tripoli, the streets have been largely deserted in recent days but worshippers were expected to turn out at the mosques for the main weekly prayers on Friday. In Al-Zawiyah 23 people were killed and 44 wounded on Thursday when regime loyalists mounted a ferocious rearguard action against protesters in this key oil refinery town, Libya's Quryna paper reported. "The wounded cannot reach the hospitals because of shots being fired in all directions," said the paper, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is in the hands of the opposition, quoting its correspondent in Al-Zawiyah.
Heavy fighting was also reported in Libya's third city Misrata, to the west of capital. In Zewara, further west towards the Tunisian border, fleeing Egyptian workers said the town was in the control of civilian militias after fierce fighting on Wednesday evening.
Libya's second city of Benghazi, where the unprecedented protests against Gaddafi's four decade rule first erupted, was firmly in the hands of Gaddafi's opponents, an AFP correspondent said.
Leading an international outcry over a Libyan death toll now put at as high as 1,000, US President Barack Obama consulted the leaders of Britain, France and Italy on how to "immediately" respond to Gaddafi's brutal crackdown. Tens of thousands of foreigners are clamouring to flee the chaos in Libya as foreign governments lay on a mammoth evacuation operation, and the crisis has driven oil prices to two-year highs in a new threat to the global economy.
US officials said no option had been ruled out. Possible measures include an asset freeze for regime figures, travel and visa bans, investment and export restrictions or tough action at the UN Security Council.
But State Department spokesman Philip Crowley also stressed the extreme sensitivity of the situation.
"Whatever steps that we do take, we want them to be effective. And we certainly don't want to take any actions that put either our citizens or the citizens of other countries at risk," he said.
Western governments faced mounting domestic criticism for their failure to organise an evacuation operation more speedily as oil workers stranded in remote camps in Libya's vast desert spoke of their equipment and supplies being looted amid growing lawlessness.