Communications to the capital appeared to have been cut, and residents could not be reached by phone from outside the country. State TV showed video of hundreds of Gadhafi supporters rallying in Green Square, waving palm fronds and pictures of the Libyan leader.
State TV quoted Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, as saying the military conducted air strikes on remote areas, away from residential neighborhoods, on munitions warehouses, denying reports that warplanes attacked Tripoli and Benghazi.
The first major protests to hit an OPEC country — and major supplier to Europe — have sent oil prices jumping, and the industry has begun eyeing reserves touched only after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the first Gulf War in 1991.
Tripoli was largely shut down yesterday, with schools, government offices and most stores closed, except for a few bakeries, said residents, who hunkered down in their homes. Armed members of pro-government organizations called "Revolutionary Committees" hunted for protesters in Tripoli's old city, said one protester named Fathi.
Members of the militia occupied the city center and no one was able to walk in the street, said one resident who lived near Green Square described a "very, very violent" situation.
"We know that the regime is reaching its end and Libyans are not retreating," the resident said. "People have a strange determination after all that happened."
Another witness said armed men dressed in militia uniforms roamed the capital's upscale diplomatic neighborhood and opened fire on a group of protesters gathering to organize a march. People wept over the dead.
Residents hoped that help would arrive from the other parts of the country.
The eruption of turmoil in the capital after seven days of protests and bloody clashes in Libya's eastern cities sharply escalated the challenge to Gadhafi. His security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. At least 233 people have been killed so far, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.