TUNIS — Libya appeared to slip further into chaos on Tuesday, as clashes intensified between rebels and forces loyal to Col. Muammar el Qaddafi in Tripoli. Opposition forces in eastern Libya moved to consolidate their control. Witnesses described the streets of Tripoli, the capital, as a war zone. In several neighborhoods of the city, including one called Fashloum, protesters tried to seal off the streets with makeshift barricades of scrap steel and other debris. Forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi so far failed to surmount the barricades and young protesters appeared to be gathering rocks to throw in their defense in anticipation of a renewed attack. www.wdalaw.com Outside the barricades, militiamen and Bedouin tribesmen defending the strongman and his 40-year rule were stationed at intersections around the city. Many carried Kalashnikov assault rifles and an anti-aircraft gun was deployed in front of the state television headquarters.
“It is extremely tense,” one witness said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals.
The rebellion is the latest and bloodiest so far of the uprisings that have swept across the Arab world with surprising speed in recent weeks, toppling autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia, and challenging others in Bahrain and Yemen.
With the Internet largely blocked, telephone service intermittent, and access to international journalists constrained, information from inside the country remained limited. The number of casualties in the weeklong revolt against Colonel Qaddafi remained unknown.
Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that it was struggling to confirm the number of dead, saying it had confirmed 233 as of Monday, most in Benghazi, the eastern city where the uprising began. Opposition groups estimated that that at least 500 people had died.
A growing number of Libyan embassies around the world, including in neighboring Tunisia, have raised the country’s pre-Qaddafi flag — now considered the banner of the revolt — and many diplomats, including Libya’s ambassador to the United States, said they had resigned to protest the bloody crackdown.
International condemnation of the violence continued to build. “Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a statement. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said Monday that he had spoken to Colonel Qaddafi and urged him to immediately halt attacks on protesters.
An exodus from Tripoli had begun, a witness said, and the freeways were crowded with cars and pedestrians attempting to flee. Inside the capital, people waited for hours to buy fuel and bread.
Security forces and militiamen backed by helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of Tripoli overnight, according to witnesses and news reports. Fighting was heavy at times, and the streets were thick with special forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi fighting alongside mercenaries. Roving the streets in trucks, they shot freely as planes dropped what witnesses described as “small bombs” and helicopters fired on protesters.
Hundreds of Qaddafi supporters took over the central Green Square in the capital after truckloads of militiamen arrived and opened fire on protesters late Monday night, scattering them. Residents said they now feared to leave their houses.
“It was an obscene amount of gunfire,” said one witness. “They were strafing these people. People were running in every direction.”
Colonel Qaddafi, whose whereabouts have been unknown, appeared for about 30 seconds on state television at 2 a.m. on Tuesday to signal his defiance and deny rumors he had left the country. “I want to show that I’m in Tripoli and not in Venezuela,” he said, holding a large white umbrella while getting into a car.
“I wanted to say something to the youths at Green Square and stay up late with them but it started raining,” he said, referring to his supporters. “Thank God, it’s a good thing.”
Reports from small towns in the mountains outside of Tripoli indicated that uprisings have driven out forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi. But security forces blocked roads leading into Tripoli, preventing people from outside the city from joining the insurrection there.