More, than 1,000 people are thought to have died in violence in Libya as government forces continue to crackdown on protesters demanding an end to Col Gaddafi's regime.

Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said: "We believe that the estimates [of the death toll] of about 1,000 are credible."

The updated death toll came as French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for Europe to suspend all economic ties with Libya following the suppression of opposition protests there and to adopt sanctions against the country.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the crisis in Libya.

Col Gaddafi threatened to unleash mob rule on his country on Tuesday night as he vowed to "cleanse Libya house by house" until he had crushed the insurrection seeking to sweep him from power.

With hundreds dead and violence spreading across the country, including the capital Tripoli, European states scrambled to evacuate thousands of their citizens left stranded by the turmoil.

Britain announced it would provide an airlift for nationals and a Royal Navy frigate was ordered to Libyan waters for added protection.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said a chartered plane would arrive in Tripoli within 48 hours.

"The safety of British nationals in Libya is of paramount concern to us," Mr Hague said. "In light of the fluid and dangerous situation, we are urgently reinforcing our team on the ground with specialist personnel to provide help and assistance to British nationals."

Heedless of the growing international outrage prompted by his bloody repression of the protests against him, Mr Gaddafi took to the airwaves to deliver the most chilling speech of his 42 years in power.

In a diatribe that lasted an hour-an-a-quarter, the Libyan leader threatened death sentences against anyone who challenged his authority and declared that he had more justification to use force that the Chinese authorities who ordered the massacre in Tiananmen Square.

Other Arab leaders facing the wrath of their people in recent weeks have sought to strike a conciliatory tone in television addresses. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's fallen president, sounded defensive but tried to offer concessions; Bahrain's crown prince announced that he was "terribly sorry" about the deaths of protesters in his island kingdom.

Speaking in the ruins of a building destroyed by US air raids in 1986 that killed his adopted daughter Hanna, Mr Gaddafi made no effort to sound accommodating and, for the moment at least, there seemed to be little immediate prospect of his being persuaded voluntarily to go into exile.

"I will fight to the last drop of my blood," he said. "Muammar Gadaffi is not a normal person that you can poison or lead a revolution against. He is the leader of the revolution. He has nothing to lose."

As he spoke, renewed gunfire echoed through the streets of Tripoli for a third day. On its eastern border with Egypt, hundreds streamed east to seek refuge from the violence, bringing with them graphic evidence of brutality.

Prime Minister David Cameron used a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the Gulf war in Kuwait to concede that the West had fostered instability in the Middle East by tolerating repression by its allies. Such an approach was both wrong and counterproductive.

"For decades, some have argued that stability required highly controlling regimes, and that reform and openness would put that stability at risk. So, the argument went, countries like Britain faced a choice between our interests and our values," he said. "And to be honest, we should acknowledge that sometimes we have made such calculations in the past. But I say that is a false choice."