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.
The city of Tobruk is in the hands of the anti-Khadafi forces.
So, what is driving Khadafi to engage in what is essentially a scorched earth policy? Well, it's the same thing that drives all autocrats and totalitarian regimes around the world - he wants to remain in power and wants to eliminate any signs of opposition to his regime. He surrounds himself with sycophants and people who are going to oblige his every whim, regardless of the facts on the ground. Add a culture of corruption and a cult of personality, and Khadafi's erratic actions begin to make sense.
One has to wonder whether the military will finally step in against Khadafi's loyalists and end the violent suppression of the opposition in Tripoli - ending Khadafi's regime once and for all.
Libya's regime continues to blame outside forces for the ongoing events in the country - blaming everyone from the US to al Jazeera.
Tripoli is essentially cut off from the rest of Libya, and the rest of the world for that matter. The regime is desperate to hold on to its power base, but the rest of the country is slipping from Khadafi's grasp.
Libyans and foreign nationals are trying to flee the country any way they can. They're crossing into Tunisia and Egypt by the thousands, and the US is arranging for charter boats to take US citizens to Malta.
Via the BBC, 1440: France is coming out with increasingly strong statements on Libya. Foreign affairs minister Laurent Wauquiez says the president wants France to suspend all its trade, economic and financial relations with Tripoli, adding:"To be clear, we shall not let what is happening in Libya take place with impunity."
As that goes on, the number of defections from the Libyan government continues growing. The ranks of those defecting from Khadafi's grasp include foreign diplomats, generals, ministers, and even entire army units.
There are reports that a military fighter jet crashed after refusing to open fire on protesters. It's possible that the aircraft suffered a mechanical failure - there are reports that Khadafi purposefully kept the military underequipped and underfunded compared to his elite personal guard so that the army wouldn't be so much of a threat to his regime.
Or, the pilot and crew decided that it was better to sacrifice themselves rather than kill civilian protesters - and deny the regime the use of another aircraft (perhaps there wasn't sufficient fuel to leave Libyan airspace) - and the regime was purposefully limiting fuel on those planes to avoid further defections. Another possibility is that elements loyal to Khadafi shot down the aircraft that refused to open fire on the protests. New reports seem to indicate that the pilots bailed out of the planes rather than fire upon the crowds.
At the same time, reports indicate that anti-Khadafi forces are closing the noose around Tripoli.
You know things are real bad for Khadafi when none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that Khadafi's crackdown is too harsh and violent. Of course, Iran has violently suppressed its own protests - both last year, and new protests that erupted in the wake (and support) of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
Press TV, Iran's state-financed satellite channel, reported on Wednesday that "Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has criticized Libyan rule Muammar Qaddafi, for threatening his own people. Ahmadinejad referred to universal human rights, saying leaders should hear the voice of their people. He went on to say resistance against the demands of a nation is futile."
According to Iran's Fars news agency, which is close to the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mr. Ahmadinejad also offered this advice to the leaders of Arab nations experiencing unrest: "Serve your people and stand beside the people so that people do not revolt against you."
In response to protests in Iran last week, Mr. Ahmadinejad's government used force to suppress dissent, leading to the death of at least two protesters.