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Gaddafi vows to 'die as a martyr,' refuses to relinquish power

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, demonstrators in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman reported that he had crossed the border from Egypt into eastern Libya and found the opposition apparently in control of the region.

There were "no officials, no passport control, no customs" on the Libyan side, Wedeman wrote on his blog. Local security forces appeared to have defected to the opposition, he wrote, though there were still Gaddafi loyalists operating in eastern Libya as well.

On Monday, two Libyan fighter jets landed in Malta, after their pilots reportedly chose to defect rather than carry out orders to bomb Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi, the cradle of the six-day-old uprising.

Tribal and religious leaders condemned Gaddafi for the attacks against civilians; some urged all Muslims to rise against him. Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi told al-Jazeera that he urged any Libyan soldier who has the opportunity to kill Gaddafi - and issued a religious decree to that effect.

"I am issuing a fatwa now to kill Gaddafi," the cleric said. "To any army soldier, to any man who can pull the trigger and kill this man to do so."

Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil resigned Monday, according to the country's Quryna newspaper. The country's ambassador to India, Ali al-Essawi, accused the Gaddafi government of deploying foreign mercenaries against the protesters. In total, at least seven senior Libyan diplomats stepped down Monday, including Libya's representative to the Arab League.

The defectors included Mohamed Abdul, 36, a cultural affairs official at the Libyan consulate in London, who walked off the job to join an anti-Gaddafi rally. He was greeted with rousing cheers, and four demonstrators hoisted him onto their shoulders, parading him around in glee.

"We can't work for this regime anymore," Abdul said. "The shocking video of people being killed on the streets is too much.

"The next step is to get our bosses and the ambassador out," he said, adding that nearly 12 other officials from the consulate had also defected.

In Tripoli on Monday, residents reported seeing heavily armed mercenaries hunting down demonstrators as buildings burned, looters ransacked police stations, and fighter jets and helicopter gunships rained ammunition from the skies.

Earlier, there were street celebrations in Benghazi, where anti-government demonstrators had reportedly taken control of the city from Libyan security forces. Even there, buildings smoldered, plumes of black smoke rising to the sky. Sirens from ambulances melded with the sound of gun battles throughout the day.

As the conflict escalated, the United States ordered all nonessential diplomats and embassy family members to leave the country. Western oil companies also removed nonessential workers.

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