Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told lawmakers it was "likely" more than 1,000 people had been killed in the Libya violence, as anti-government demonstrators appeared to rally for renewed protests.
"We believe that the estimates [of the death toll] of about 1,000 are credible," Frattini reportedly said.
Frattini also told Corriere della Sera newspaper he feared an immigrant exodus on a "biblical scale" if Gaddafi was toppled, predicting that up to 300,000 Libyans could flee.
Despite bloody crackdown that drove protesters from the streets of Tripoli, new videos posted by Libya's opposition on Facebook showed scores of anti-government protesters raising the flag from the pre-Gaddafi monarchy on a building in Zawiya, on the outskirts of Tripoli, according to the Associated Press. Another showed protesters lining up cement blocks and setting tires ablaze to fortify positions on a square inside the capital. The footage couldn't be independently confirmed.
Thursday marked the ninth day of a standoff with Muammar Gaddafi — who in a speech broadcast on state TV vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood" to hold on to power or die a "martyr."
Vowing to track down and kill protesters “house by house,” Gaddafi tightened his grip on the capital, Tripoli, but after a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya's 1,000-mile Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.
Overnight, residents in Libya's capital Tripoli heard sporadic gunshots, a resident told CNN Wednesday, but when day broke, the main roads in the city had been "cleaned off as if nothing happened."
Thousands of his Gaddafi's supporters converged in the city’s central Green Square after his fiery speech Wednesday wearing green bandannas and brandishing large machetes, according to the New York Times.
Many loaded into trucks headed for the outlying areas of the city, where they occupied traffic intersections and appeared to be massing for neighborhood-to-neighborhood searches.
“It looks like they have been given a green light to kill these people,” one witness reportedly said.
But Gaddafi's security forces did not appear to make any attempt to take back the growing number of towns in the east that had in effect declared their independence and set up informal opposition governments. There seemed little indication of what would replace the vacuum left.
An Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from the city of Tobruk, 100 miles from the Egyptian border, said there was no presence of security forces.
"From what I've seen, I'd say the people of eastern Libya are the ones in control", Hoda Abdel-Hamid said, adding that there were no officials manning the border when the Al Jazeera team crossed into Libya. "All along the border, we didn't see one policeman, we didn't see one soldier and people here told us they [security forces] have all fled or are in hiding and that the people are now in charge, meaning all the way from the border, Tobruk, and then all the way up to Benghazi."
Gen. Soliman Mahmoud al-Obeid, interviewed by Reuters in Tobruk, said he no longer stood with Gaddafi after hearing of orders to kill civilians in Benghazi, where he estimated 300 people had died.
"With respect to Gaddafi's speech, all of it was untrue. Gaddafi has not been trustworthy ... He bombs with airplanes and uses excessive force against unarmed people. I am sure he will fall in the coming few days."
Ukrainian media reported that in towns seized by anti-government protesters Ukrainian medics had been forced to work in hospitals at gunpoint, to treat people injured in the violence, the BBC reported.
A Ukrainian doctor in Benghazi, identified as Iryna, said: "Operation sisters, anesthesiologists were standing for 30 hours in operating theaters and treating the wounded."
Time quoted a source close to Gaddafi as saying that Gaddafi had the support of only 5,000 soldiers in the army and that the Libyan leader has told people close to him that he realizes he cannot control Libya with the troops he has.
According to the Associated Press, the opposition has reportedly seized control of Misrata, with witnesses saying people were honking their horns and raising pre-Gaddafi flags to celebrate.
Misrata would be the first major city in the west to fall to anti-government forces, which have mainly been concentrated in the east. Faraj al-Misrati, a local doctor, said six residents had been killed and 200 injured since Feb. 18, when protesters attacked offices and buildings affiliated with Gadhafi's regime. He said residents had formed committees to protect the city, clean the streets and treat the injured.
"The solidarity among the people here is amazing, even the disabled are helping out," he said in a telephone interview.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi has ordered his security forces to sabotage oil facilities, Time magazine reported Wednesday,
According to the report, the forces were ordered to start blowing up oil pipelines in order to cut off flows to ports in the Mediterranean. "The sabotage, according to the insider, is meant to serve as a message to Libya's rebellious tribes: It's either me or chaos," said the report.
International pressure mounts
International pressure is mounting on Gaddafi, after a chorus of international condemnation and resignations by top officials.
The U.N. Security Council demanded an end to the violence on Tuesday, while the Arab League suspended Libya.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the violence unleashed against Libyan protesters was "completely unacceptable" and that the United States will take "appropriate steps" to deal with the situation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the European Union to adopt "swift and concrete sanctions" and to suspend ties with Libya.
The U.N. Security Council's statement in New York late on Tuesday came amid reports that foreign mercenaries have been attacking civilians and warplanes bombing protesters.
The council's 15 members said the Libyan government should "meet its responsibility to protect its population," act with restraint, and respect human rights and international humanitarian law.
The statement said the Libyan authorities should also hold accountable those people responsible for attacking civilians, and respect the rights of its citizens.
Libya's deputy permanent representative to the U.N., Ibrahim Dabbashi — who called on Monday for Gaddafi to step down — said the statement was "not strong enough."
On Wednesday, the Libyan government said former Interior Minister Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi had been kidnapped — though al Abidi said hours earlier that he quit his post Monday after hearing that 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi. He accused Gaddafi of planning to attack civilians on a wide scale and predicted Wednesday that protesters will achieve victory in "days or hours."
In amateur video footage that showed Abidi at his desk reading a statement, the minister announced his support for the "February 17 revolution" and called on the Libyan army to join the people and support their "legitimate demands."
In an interview with the Al Arabiya television network, he said, "I begged Gaddafi not to send planes, I called him. Now of course we don't speak, I have joined the revolution."
He added: "I gave orders to my men in Benghazi not to shoot protesters, not one of my men shot at protesters."
Others who have resigned include the Libyan ambassadors to the U.S., India and Bangladesh.
Diplomats at Libya's U.N. mission sided with the revolt against Gaddafi and called on the Libyan army to help overthrow "the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi." In a statement, the mission's deputy chief and other staff said they were serving the Libyan people, demanded "the removal of the regime immediately" and urged other Libyan embassies to follow suit.
Meanwhile, Western countries have been evacuating their citizens from Libya.
The United States, which was unable to land charter planes in Tripoli because Libyan authorities did not give permission, chartered a ferry to take travelers from central Tripoli's As-shahab port to Valletta, Malta, on Wednesday.
Planes and frigates from Turkey, France and Russia have been sent to pick up thousands of their stranded nationals.
Some passengers said the Libyan capital's airport was choked with expatriates waiting to be flown home.
Other nations also sent military and civilian planes to Tripoli or were preparing to do so in coordination with Libyan authorities. Those nations include Bulgaria, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Jordan, the Netherlands, Russia, Serbia and Spain, according to VOA.
Two Turkish ferries arrived in the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi late Tuesday to pick up about 3,000 Turkish citizens stranded in the city.
South Asian nations also prepared evacuation plans for tens of thousands of their citizens working in Libya, many as low-paid laborers on construction sites.
A U.K. warship, HMS Cumberland, has been sent to the Libyan coast ahead of a possible evacuation.
— Freya Petersen