Gunmen flash the victory sign as they drive through Benghazi, Libya, now under rebel control. Thousands held a rally in the city to support Tripoli, where protesters are fighting armed supporters of Muammar Kaddafi.BENGHAZI, Libya — Security forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi opened fire as thousands of anti-government protesters swarmed the streets of Tripoli in hopes of finally toppling Kaddafi's regime.
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Witnesses described multiple casualties from the fiercest violence yet in the Libyan capital.
By nightfall it appeared that Kaddafi's forces had retained control of his last major stronghold.
After the clashes, a defiant Kaddafi urged thousands of his supporters at a rally to take up weapons on his behalf.
"Every Libyan individual will be armed, every Libyan tribe will be armed. So Libya will turn to hell," he said in the city's Green Square, threatening to open military arsenals to supporters and tribesmen.
"We can crush any enemy. We can crush it with the people's will," he said.
"People who don't love me don't deserve to live," Kaddafi said.
In Washington, President Obama said the United States has imposed unilateral sanctions on Libya because violence and unrest there pose an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to America's national security and foreign policy.
Mr. Obama said financial sanctions target the government of Kaddafi while protecting the Libyan people's assets.
The U.N. Security Council also drafted possible sanctions including an arms embargo, travel bans, and freezing top officials' assets, and threatened the Libyan leadership with indictments for crimes against humanity.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said "thousands" may have been killed or injured by Kaddafi's forces during the uprising and called for international intervention to protect civilians. One Libyan medical charity was quoted by Al Arabiya as saying 2,000 had died in Benghazi alone.
Meanwhile, a U.S.-chartered ferry with Americans and other foreigners leaving Libya arrived Friday at the island of Malta. After three days of delays, the Maria Dolores ferry reached its destination with more than 300 passengers, including at least 167 U.S. citizens.
"Oh, it was a long ordeal. We are glad it's over," said evacuee Sara Ali, 30, who lives in Libya and has dual Libyan-American citizenship. "We're just really tired and really happy to be out and safe."
Tens of thousands of foreigners have been fleeing Libya. Turkish and Chinese workers climbed aboard ships by the thousands, Europeans mostly boarded evacuation flights, and North Africans have been heading to Libya's borders with Egypt and Tunisia in overcrowded vans.
A U.S.-chartered flight also left Tripoli Friday. It arrived in Istanbul last night with Americans — some working for the U.S. Embassy — and one British citizen on board. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli has been shuttered.
In Libya, reports said that rebels had gained control of at least one key suburb of Tripoli. Several other towns, including heavily contested Zawiya, 20 miles west of the capital, were said to have fallen to the opposition.
Unconfirmed reports said that an air base outside the capital had fallen to rebels.
Some Tripoli residents expressed fears of a prolonged siege in which rebels control towns and cities around the country while Kaddafi's forces in Tripoli dig in.
"We know the whole country is with us, but we don't know how long this is going to take," said a trader who joined the protests but went home after the gunfire became too intense. "The security forces have the upper hand, and there's so many of them, because he's concentrating all his effort on Tripoli."
One rebel officer who is coordinating an attack on Tripoli, Col. Tarek Saad Hussein, asserted in an interview that an armed volunteer force of about 2,000 men — including army defectors — was likely to arrive in Tripoli Friday night.
His claim could not be confirmed.
The day's fighting in Tripoli began shortly after midday prayers, when residents poured out of mosques to revive their protests, only to be met by gunfire from soldiers and pro-Kaddafi civilians.
For several hours, the protesters pressed ahead in their attempt to converge on Green Square, chanting, "God is great" and anti-Kaddafi slogans.
Videos posted on YouTube and Facebook showed scenes of citizens scattering under volleys of gunfire in several neighborhoods, then attempting to regroup.
After seeing ambulances ferrying gunmen around the city, residents lost trust in local medical services and took the injured into their homes for treatment, said one businessman who participated in the protests.
"Everyone is very devastated," said a resident who lives near the square and watched from her window as men in sport utility vehicles fired on protesters in the street below. She said she thought that as many as 60 people had been killed and knew of three who died when pro-Kaddafi gunmen stormed a mosque and opened fire on worshipers.
"We are just hearing about people dying, and it's like this isn't going to end," she said. "This guy will kill until the last day of his life."
The World Food Program said accounts from people fleeing the violence indicated shortages of food, fuel, and medical supplies, exacerbated by port closures.
State television said the government was raising wages and food subsidies and ordering special allowances for all families, a late bid to enroll the support of Libya's 6 million citizens.
In Libya's eastern city of Benghazi, one of the first where the regime's opponents gained control, huge crowds gathered to celebrate their victory and show solidarity with those still battling Kaddafi. Before Friday's prayers in Benghazi, three coffins bearing the bodies of people who had died in clashes this week were carried above the crowds. Men shouted and women wept for the dead.
During prayers, a cleric named Salem Jaber delivered an emotional sermon calling for unity and peace. He also warned that Libyans do not want foreign military intervention.
"In God's name, we've taken our step in peace," he said.
Others echoed the view that foreigners should not intervene directly on the ground during Libya's uprising. But they said they would like a no-fly zone to be implemented over Benghazi to keep Kaddafi from sending warplanes to attack.