In defiance of almost universal condemnation for his actions, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is reportedly raising the stakes by arming his supporters in Tripoli for a long and exhaustive battle against armed rebels who are reportedly encroaching upon the capitol.
The eastern part of the country, including Benghazi and several key oilfields are now under the control of anti-Gaddafi forces. Tripoli, home to about one-third of Libyan’s population, remains largely in Gaddafi’s control.
Pro-government forces reportedly fired heavy weaponry at protesters in Tripoli on Friday.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that Gaddafi is allowing civilian supporters in Tripoli access to his arms depot in order to shoot protesters. They are also apparently patrolling the city on trucks and periodically shooting at anti-Gaddafi demonstrators.
On Friday, Gaddafi appeared on state TV in front of a large crowd of his supporters. He encouraged them to quash the opposition.
We shall destroy any aggression with popular will, he said. With the armed people, when necessary we will open the weapons depots. So that all the Libyan people, all the Libyan tribes can be armed. Libya will become a red flame, a burning coal.
The New York Times reported witness accounts claiming that pro-Gaddafi gunmen have been shooting people from ambulances and even employing anti-aircraft guns against crowds.
“They shoot people from the ambulances,” said one resident, according to the Times. “We thought they’d take [a wounded man] him to the hospital, [but the militia] shot him dead and left with a squeal.”
There are also unconfirmed reports that dead bodies are being removed from Tripoli hospitals and morgues in order to conceal the actual number of deceased.
Security forces are also searching houses in the area and killing those who they accuse of being against the government, a witness told Al Jazeera.
At least 1,000 people have already died during the nationwide crisis (other reports claim the death toll is significantly higher).
Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, also appeared on TV and claimed that the number of fatalities has been exaggerated. He also said the uprising was the work of al-Qaeda, parroting his father’s statements.
Al Jazeera reported that increasing numbers of military commanders and soldiers, even in the western parts of Libya, are abandoning Gaddafi and joining the protesters.
However, the Khamis Brigade, an elite army special forces brigade, remains loyal to Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, thousands of foreign nationals are trapped in Libya, although evacuation by various international governments have apparently been speeded up, both by sea and by land.
The US government, following the lead of Switzerland and the UK, have moved to freeze assets held by Gaddafi and associates. President Barack Obama also said he will seize Libyan state property in the US.