Feb. 21, 2011 -- Libyan strongman Moammar Ghadafi made a brief television appearance shortly after midnight Tuesday, just long enough to say he hadn't fled the country.
"I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela," he said. "Don't believe those misleading dog stations."
As he sat in a vehicle, apparently outside his house, he told a state televsion interviewer that he had intended to go speak to supporters but decided not to because of rain.
Ghadafi's appearance, which had been anticipated all day, came as troops massed in Libya's capital of Tripoli in what many residents fear could turn into a massacre fueled by what an eye witness in Tripoli told ABC News were foreign mercenaries.
"What I've seen today is hundreds, if not thousands of troops" that are gathering along with helicopters, said a Libyan-American who is visiting family and did not want to be identified. "Men on jeeps and military people in the town are coming in. There is going to be a massacre."
The military was gathering in the nation's capital as multiple reports described a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters. Demonstrations have rocked the country in recent days and have spread from Libya's second-largest city of Benghazi to Tripoli.
Multiple sources described foreign mercenaries on the streets of Tripoli shooting indiscriminately at protesters.
"They seem to be people from African cities, South Asian states, and for some reason, even European looking soldiers. But the majority of the ones that I saw seem to be foreign soldiers or mercenaries, whatever you want to call them," the witness told ABC News. "There's a lot of fear and tension."
Hafed Al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American analyst based in Washington, D.C., also said his family described a large number of African mercenaries on the streets, as helicopters bombed protesters from the skies.
"They are absolutely terrified," al Ghwell said, adding that his mother, 73, said "the shooting is happening right here in my bedroom."
Libya's UN ambassadors called for Gadhafi to step down today as protesters claimed to have taken control of Benghazi and fighting -- including the burning of government buildings -- spread to the capital of Tripoli where angry demonstrators stormed the state television station, set fire to government buildings and the Olympic Square.
"We have never been with Gadhafi. We are with the people," Libyan Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Ibrahim Dabbashi told ABC News. It's "time for him to be prosecuted."
Dabbashi said he wasn't aware of Gadhafi's whereabouts and that communication was limited because of the shutdown of Internet and phone service.
Libyan officials appeared to be defecting from the leader who has ruled the country for 40 years. Ali Ojli, Libya's ambassador to the United States, condemned the violence by security forces in his country and accused the government of ordering the crackdown.
Two senior Libyan Air Force colonels arrived in Malta today seeking political asylum, saying they fled the country after they were ordered to attack protesters in Benghazi, according to various reports.
Anti-government protesters demanding the ouster of longtime dictator Gadhafi carried placards and signs saying "Free Libya" and "Gadhafi - murderer, criminal," descended on the nation's capital today despite a government crackdown. The protests spread from the east, from Benghazi, where protesters overtook the city this weekend with some help from military forces.
Oil prices posted the biggest one-day jump in almost three years. Companies and countries prepared to evacuate their staff and citizens as the United States ordered embassy family members and all non-emergency personnel to depart Libya.
Italian news agency Ansa described chaos at the Tripoli airport, with hundreds of foreigners waiting to board planes to leave the country. One director of a French company reached at the airport said that "last night was terrible, shootings all over the place and a river of people in the streets even in the residential areas". He said he was trying to get about 40 employees and their families out "but this is a disaster, there are not enough planes," he told the news agency.
With landlines and communications cut and news media mostly blocked from accessing the country, it has been difficult to confirm reports of what's happening on the ground.
The escalating violence comes a day after Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, insisted in a televised message Sunday that his father is still in the country and in control and warned of a civil war if the protests aren't controlled.
He vowed that they would "fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet."
He also blamed the uprising on Islamic extremists and foreigners, claimed the media was exaggerating casualty figures, and offered his people a deal: constitutional reform and a new government in 48 hours or civil war.
"We are not Tunisia and Egypt," Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said. "Moammar Gadhafi, our leader, is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are with him."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly condemned the violence.
"The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly. Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed," Clinton said in a paper statement. "We are working urgently with friends and partners around the world to convey this message to the Libyan government."
President Obama has been briefed on the security situation a number of times today.
"We are analyzing the speech of Seif al-Islam Qadhafi to see what possibilities it contains for meaningful reform," a senior administration official said earlier today. "We will seek clarification from senior Libyan officials, as we continue to raise with them the need to avoid violence against peaceful protesters and respect universal rights."
Unlike Egypt, where 18 days of protests brought down the 30-year-long presidency of Hosni Mubarak, the protests in Libya have been particularly brutal.
Hospital officials and human rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed and thousands wounded since the unrest started about a week ago.
Protesters are calling for the ouster of Gadhafi, who has ruled the oil-rich country for more than 40 years.
Protests Rock Middle East
"We need this guy to get out," said protester Ahmed Mansour. "Gadhafi, you are ruling over Libya, it's now your 42nd year. This type of issues is over in the whole world, there are no more dictatorships again in the whole world. We people are supporting each other and we need all dictators to get out of the whole world, not just Libya."
In Benghazi, the bodies of security forces were hung from flag poles after protesters took over a government building.
In some cities, there are reports military units are siding with protesters. The country's state-operated TV news channel was also ransacked.
Earlier today, witnesses reported a massacre with hundreds dead as the military opened fire on anti-government demonstrators, attending a funeral for protesters killed the day before.
"They're firing on civilians here. They're crazy. They're going crazy here," a doctor told the BBC.
Seif al-Islam said that the army has made mistakes during protests because it was not trained to deal with the demonstrations.
"If it comes to civil war, 5 million people will fight and 100,000 will die. It will be a bloodbath," he warned.
The unrest prompted British Petroleum officials to prepare the "likely" evacuation of its staff the Associated Press reported.
BP spokesman David Nicholas said the company has about 140 employees in the country.
EU foreign ministers condemned Libya's crackdown on the protesters and are also preparing to transport their citizens out the country.
"We are very worried about the situation in Libya," Spain's Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez told the Associated Press. "At the same time we are coordinating the possible evacuation of EU citizens from Libya, especially from Benghazi."
Since Mubarak resigned, protests have spread across the Middle East though unlike in Egypt, they have taken on a brutally violent shape.
Reports of protests were seen in Morocco and Yemen, both U.S. allies, and Algeria.
In Bahrain, after nearly a week of anti-government protests that have killed numerous people, the streets were calmer but protesters gathered at Pearl Square maintained their momentum.
Negotiations have still not commenced between the crown prince and main opposition groups, who are calling for huge protests Tuesday. Protesters have been busy organizing themselves, setting up a media center, kitchens, first aid station, even garbage collection in Pearl Square.
Outside the Middle East, Iran has also been ransacked by protests in recent days. Eyewitness reports from Tehran describe large protests met with gunfire from security forces. Guards were seen shooting at people who, in turn, threw stones back at security officers.
ABC News' Katie Slaman, Lama Hasan, Jim Sciutto, Luis Martinez, Ann Compton, Lara Setrakian and the Associated Press contributed to this report.