Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed defiance in the face of a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule on Tuesday, making a fleeting television appearance to scorn protesters and deny he had fled the country. Gaddafi's forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators, with fighting now spreading to the capital Tripoli after erupting in Libya's oil-producing east last week. Human Rights Watch says at least 233 people have been killed. As the fighting has intensified across the thinly populated nation stretching from the Mediterranean deep into the Sahara desert, cracks appeared among Gaddafi supporters, with some ambassadors resigning and calling for his removal. The justice minister quit in protest at the use of force and a group of army officers called on soldiers to "join the people," while two pilots flew their warplanes to nearby Malta. Tripoli, a Mediterranean coastal city, appeared calm in the early hours of Tuesday. One resident said: "There is heavy rain at the moment, so people are at home. I am in the east of the city and have not heard clashes." Gaddafi appeared on television after days of seclusion to scoff at reports he had fled to Venezuela, ruled by his friend President Hugo Chavez. "I want to show that I'm in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs," Gaddafi said, holding an umbrella and leaning out of a van apparently outside his residence in what amounted to a 22-second appearance.