Witnesses in the Libyan capital Tripoli say many streets were deserted Wednesday, with residents afraid to leave their homes, a day after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi urged his supporters to attack anti-government demonstrators.
The witnesses told foreign news agencies that armed Gadhafi loyalists and mercenaries from other African nations were roaming the capital, threatening people who gather in groups and occasionally opening fire.
In Gadhafi’s first televised address since an uprising against his rule began last week, he vowed to stay in power and called on supporters to fight back against opposition protesters whom he described as “gangs” and “terrorists.” He threatened death for anyone who takes up arms against Libya or engages in espionage.
But, there were more signs that the Libyan leader has lost control of the eastern half of his country to protesters backed by defecting military units. Witnesses in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Tobruk say residents were in control of the streets Tuesday and celebrating their defeat of Gadhafi’s forces. Benghazi residents also formed units to collect weapons and protect property.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said there are credible reports that about 1,000 people have been killed in Libya’s week-long uprising. He also confirmed that the eastern half of Libya, known as Cyrenaica, was no longer under Gadhafi’s control.
U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch says at least 62 people have been killed in Tripoli since Sunday, in addition to 233 people killed in earlier violence, mostly in the country’s east. Opposition groups say the death toll is much higher.
In another setback to Gadhafi Tuesday, a close associate, Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younis, announced his defection and support for the uprising. Numerous other Libyan officials, including the justice minister, diplomats and military officers, also have turned against the Libyan leader in recent days.
Gadhafi took power in a coup in 1969.