Witnesses reported fierce clashes in the Libyan capital Friday between Moammar Gadhafi's security forces and anti-regime protesters while state television aired images of the embattled but defiant strongman urging supporters to defend the nation.
More violence unfolded as the world's top human rights official warned Gadhafi's bloody crackdown on protesters is "escalating alarmingly" and "thousands may have been killed or injured."
"Although reports are still patchy and hard to verify, one thing is painfully clear: in (a) brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters," said Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
Global leaders planned to discuss the Libyan crisis in emergency sessions Friday as all eyes fell on Tripoli, which Gadhafi fought to retain as his stronghold.
Witnesses said several people were injured amid reports of sniper and artillery fire in Tripoli, said Mohammed Ali Abdallah of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, which opposes Gadhafi's regime. He based his account on reports that he said he received from witnesses in the city.
Another witness told CNN that protesters in western Tripoli were met by plainclothes security forces who fired guns at them and later tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Prior to the clashes on Friday morning, security forces had removed barricades, disposed of bodies and painted over graffiti in Tripoli, witnesses said.
"We're all in our houses like we're sitting in jail," a Tripoli resident said Thursday. "We can't go outside or we get shot. We hear the bullets."
Gadhafi was shown on state television wearing a fur trooper's hat and addressing a crowd of supporters.
"We can destroy any armed violence with the armed people," he said. "If the Libyans don't love me, I don't deserve to live."
He vowed to defeat external forces attempting to take down his nation.
"I'm among the people," he said. "We will fight and we will defeat them.... Young men, be comfortable in the streets, in the squares. Dance, sing, live a life of dignity."
Earlier, Gadhafi's son said his father has no intention of stepping down.
Asked if Gadhafi has a "Plan B" to leave Libya, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi told CNN Turk: "We have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya."
He said he hoped Libya would come out of the crisis united.
"I am sure Libya will have a better future," he said. "However, such a strong state as we are, we will never allow our people to be controlled by a handful of terrorists. This will never happen." But global leaders were meeting Friday to talk about what kind of pressure can be brought on Gadhafi to surrender control and limit the humanitarian consequences.
The United Nations Security Council plans to discuss a poposed draft resolution that would impose new sanctions on Libya. They include an arms embargo, asset freeze and a travel ban. The council will also refer Libya to the International Criminal Court.
The legally-binding resolution is backed by the possible threat of force but approval of such measures could be stalled by Russia and China, both unlikely to support military intervention.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen said the alliance has assets that can be used in this crisis and that it could "act as an enabler and coordinator, if and when, individual member states want to take action."
Meanwhile, foreign nationals faced a "massive challenge," Rasmussen said, as they braved rough seas to escape the violence in the north African nation. A British ship left Benghazi -- the second-largest city -- with 207 people on board. A United States ferry with at least 300 people safely onboard sailed from Tripoli for Malta on Friday.
Libya's improbable uprising, after four decades of Gadhafi's ironclad rule, took root first in the nation's easter province. The second largest city, Benghazi, and other smaller eastern towns are no longer within Gadhafi's hold.
But closer to Tripoli, where the dictator maintains some support, protesters are still being met with brute force.
Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, has said the death toll could be as high as 800. And the Italian foreign minister estimated that as many as 1,000 people may have died so far. The town of Zawiya -- about 55 kilometers (35 miles) west of Tripoli -- was the epicenter of violent protests Thursday. Doctors at a field hospital said early Friday that 17 people were killed and 150 more wounded when government forces attacked.
CNN could not confirm reports for many areas in Libya. The Libyan government maintains tight control of communications and has not responded to repeated requests for access to the country. CNN has interviewed numerous witnesses by phone.
Gunfire erupted as protesters marched down city streets chanting "Allahu Akbar," (God is Great) while they carried a body wrapped in white sheets.
Anti-government forces said they had gained control of the city as Gadhafi accused followers of Osama bin Laden of adding hallucinogenic drugs to residents' drinks to spark the unrest.
"They put it with milk or with other drinks, spiked drinks," he said. After taking the tablets, "they (the protesters) attack this police station or that one so they can steal from there the criminal records."
Gadhafi called for the al Qaeda leader to be prosecuted.
"He's responsible for any acts of murder or sabotage," Gadhafi said Thursday. "How can such lunatic youth cause such anarchy?"
Gadhafi, sent condolences to the victims' families, and he urged the protesters' mothers to track them down and take them home. He said Libya has peaceful ways for its citizens to address their grievances.
"We are not like Egypt or Tunisia," he said, referring to two countries that have ousted their leaders in recent weeks. "Here, the authority is in the hands of the people. You can change your authority, just make committees. And if you think they are corrupt, take them to court."
The international fallout, like the protests, has also spread. Switzerland ordered Gadhafi's assets frozen, the foreign ministry said. And a stream of Libyan diplomats defected over the unrest, including the ambassador to Jordan, Mohammed Hassan Al Barghathi.
A cousin of Gadhafi who serves as a top security official and is considered one of his closest aides also resigned.
In one of the clearest indications of Gadhafi's embattled regime, the flag of Libya's opposition flew instead of the regime's outside the nation's mission at the United Nations.
**CNN's Yousuf Basil, Ben Wedeman, Saad Abedine, Whitney Hurst, Pam Benson, Ingrid Formanek and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.