On the fifth day of an unprecedented challenge to his four-decade regime, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi had still made no public comment although he appeared at a mass rally of supporters in the capital on Thursday.
After regime opponents had used Facebook to mobilise protests, like in neighbouring Egypt, the social networking website was blocked on Saturday and Internet connections patchy, said Internet users in Tripoli and Benghazi.
Arbor Networks, a US-based tracker of online traffic, said Internet services were cut overnight.
But the capital itself remained calm today, a correspondent in Tripoli said, as state television and the official news agency JANA restricted their coverage to reports of pro-regime rallies.
“Security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they're demanding change and accountability,” said HRW, citing phone interviews with hospital staff and witnesses.
It said thousands of demonstrators had poured out onto the streets in Benghazi and other eastern cities on Friday, a day after clashes in which 49 people were killed.
“Hospital sources told Human Rights Watch that security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on February 18, almost all with live ammunition,” raising the tally to more than 80.
At least 24 were gunned down in Benghazi and Al-Baida on a “day of anger” on Thursday, according to HRW.
Libya's attorney general, Abdelrahman al-Abbar, has ordered an inquiry into the violence focused on the east of the country, an official in Tripoli told AFP on Saturday, on condition of anonymity.
The prosecutor has called for “procedures to be expedited to judge all those who were guilty of death or looting,” the source said.
In Benghazi, Libya's second city and hotbed of anti-Kadhafi opposition, demonstrators set fire to the headquarters of a local radio station after the building's guards withdrew, witnesses and a security source said.
And Libyan newspaper Quryna reported on Friday that some 1,000 inmates had escaped from a Benghazi prison, while a security source told AFP four inmates were shot dead during a breakout bid in Tripoli.
US President Barack Obama has condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, while Britain, France and the European Union urged Libyan authorities to exercise restraint.
Britain warned its citizens against all but essential travel to eastern Libya and France said it had suspended authorisation of exports of security equipment to the North African nation.
With international concerns mounting, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters a repatriation of his country's nationals from Libya would “probably begin today (Saturday)”.
Kadhafi, 68, is the longest-serving leader in the Arab world. His oil-producing North African state is sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt, whose long-time leaders have been toppled by popular uprisings.