UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council further isolated Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Tuesday, condemning his regime's crackdown on anti-government protesters and demanding that violence against civilians end immediately.
A press statement agreed by all 15 members of the U.N.'s most powerful body expressed "grave concern" at the situation in Libya, "deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators, and expressed deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians."
The council called for an "immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the population, including through national dialogue."
The council issued the statement after several hours of closed consultations.
It came hours after Gadhafi vowed in a television address to keep fighting to his "last drop of blood" and urged his supporters to take to the streets, setting the stage for even more deadly violence.
Council members said the Libyan government should "meet its responsibility to protect its population," act with restraint, and respect human rights and international humanitarian law. They said the Libyan government should hold accountable those people, including government forces, who have attacked civilians.
International human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies should be given immediate access, council members said. They appealed for humanitarian assistance amid reports of shortages of medical supplies to treat the wounded.
Council members also said Libyan government needed to respect the rights of its citizens to peaceful assembly, free expression and press freedom.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, among five permanent council members with veto power, said the statement was "extremely strong" and indicated more action was likely coming.
Lyall Grant said the body would ask for action next week by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. There have been demands that Libya's seat on the rights council be withdrawn.
"No doubt we will be meeting again and reviewing what further measures may be appropriate in the light of events," Lyall Grant said.
The international community has spoken in "one clear and unified voice" for the bloodshed in Libya to end, said Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, deputy representative for the U.S., another permanent council member. She said her country hoped for "an immediate end to this unacceptable situation."
Still, a stronger action would have been a "presidential statement," which becomes part of the council's record.
Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the action was a "positive first step" that nevertheless "falls short of the firm action needed to prevent large-scale atrocities." He said the body should also impose a travel ban and asset freeze on senior Libyan officials and military commanders found responsible for grave human rights violations.
Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gadhafi to step down, said the statement was "not strong enough" but still "a good message to the regime in Libya about stopping the bloodshed."
Dabbashi and other diplomats at Libya's U.N. mission are at odds with Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham, who on Tuesday called Gadhafi "my friend" and said he had been speaking hourly with top government officials appealing for the violence to end.
In signs of waning support for the Libyan strongman inside his own government, the Libyan ambassador to the U.S. has also urged Gadhafi to step down, and the ambassadors to India and Bangladesh have resigned.
"There's no other solution," Ambassador Ali Aujali, Libya's ambassador in Washington, told The Associated Press. "He should step down and give the chance for the people to make their future."
The council issued its statement after meeting several hours of closed consultations, included briefings by Ambassador Shalgam, and U.N. Undersecretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe, who oversees political affairs. "The situation is deteriorating and can get much worse," Pascoe told reporters after the briefing.
The U.N. political chief expressed "huge concern" at Gadhafi's speech and warned that "asking some people to attack other people, particularly if some of those are peaceful demonstrators, is a very dangerous thing."
Gadhafi's security forces have unleashed the most deadly crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region. The eruption of turmoil in the capital of Tripoli has especially escalated the challenge to Gadhafi's 40-year rule.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he spoke to Gadhafi on Monday for 40 minutes and "forcefully urged him to stop violence against demonstrators and again strongly underlined the importance of respecting the human rights of those demonstrators."
On Tuesday, the U.N. chief discussed the Libyan situation with the emir of Qatar. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said they agreed on the need for Arab leaders and the U.N. to call for an immediate end to the violence, and for the launch of a broad-based dialogue.
Ban has expressed outrage at what he described as "very disturbing and shocking scenes" of Libyan authorities firing at demonstrators from warplanes and helicopters.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Raquel Maria Dillon in Beverly Hills, California, and Douglass K. Daniel and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report along with writers at AP bureaus.