A mass exodus of foreigners from Libya accelerated today after Col. Moammar Gadhafi threatened a fierce crackdown on protesters and reports emerged that as many as 1,000 people may have died since the uprising began over the weekend.
Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini said today that estimates of a 1,000 people killed in the violence appeared to be credible, but he added that he didn't have complete information. Human Rights Watch pegs the number of deaths at around 300. With the country virtually sealed off, it has been impossible to confirm casualties, but footage being leaked on the Internet shows a violent picture.
Eyewitnesses continue to describe a bloody scene unfolding in the streets of Tripoli, the nation's capital, with African mercenaries recruited and trained by Gadhafi killing indiscriminately, shooting anyone in sight.
"A woman went looking out the balcony of her house. They shot her dead, looking out of the balcony. She wasn't shouting, she wasn't even protesting. Just looking out of the balcony. They shot her dead," one resident, crying, told ABC News by phone. "These are not humans. These are gorillas."
Throughout the night, gunfire rang out as residents hunkered down in their homes.
Time Magazine reported that Gadhafi, who has controlled the country for 42 years, had ordered his security forces to sabotage oil facilities and start blowing up oil pipelines to cut off flows to ports in the Mediterranean.
The uprising in Libya has rattled oil markets. Crude oil prices closed at the highest level in two years on Tuesday as the uprising threatened to disrupt exports. Libya, an OPEC member, is the 17th largest oil producer in the world, producing 1.7 million barrels per day.
There were reports of aerial attacks in Libya's second-largest city of Benghazi, where violence seized in the last few days as civilians took over.
A Benghazi resident told ABC News Tuesday that the city was under control of police and civilians who were working hand in hand. But reports today emerged that Libya's second-largest city may once again be the subject of attacks by Gadhafi's regime.
Tunisian radio interviewed an emotional woman in Benghazi today who said there had been overnight attacks on that city.
Meanwhile, reports emerged that protesters had claimed victory in other cities, including Misrata. If that's true, it would be the largest city in the west of the country to fall out of Gadhafi's control.
In nearly an hour-long, often rambling speech, an angry Gadhafi vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood," blamed the protests on foreigners and "rats," and said he would unleash a massive crackdown if protesters don't back down.
The violent clashes in Libya in the past week between security forces and protesters have many people scrambling to leave Libya.
The U.S. State Department was attempting to evacuate Americans out of the capital of Tripoli by ferry to the nearby island of Malta today. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday said, "this bloodshed is completely unacceptable." But President Obama has yet to make a statement and U.S. officials haven't made any direct public comments regarding Gadhafi.