BENGHAZI, Libya – Muammar Gaddafi's attempts to crush a revolt against his four-decade rule have killed as many as 1,000 people and split Libya, Italy's Foreign Minister said on Wednesday.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the revolt against Gaddafi, people let off firecrackers and honked their horns to mark the end of days of bloodshed there.
With much of the east said to be under control of the protesters, an empty jail burned in Benghazi and Britain's Sky News showed footage of anti-aircraft missiles at what it said was an abandoned military base near Tobruk.
As countries with strong business ties to Africa's third largest oil producer scrambled to evacuate their citizens, and residents of the capital lay low for fear of pro-Gaddafi gunmen, France became the first state to call for sanctions.
"I would like the suspension of economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya until further notice," President Nicolas Sarkozy said.
But in the latest sign of international division over how to deal with Gaddafi, the prime minister of Qatar said he did not want to isolate Libya, where several senior officials have declared their backing for protests that began about a week ago.
Protesters have taken over the eastern, oil producing region of the country, Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al Abidi and a senior aide to Gaddafi's influential son Saif were the latest to change sides.
"I resigned from the Gaddafi Foundation on Sunday to express dismay against violence," Youssef Sawani, executive director of the foundation, said in a text message sent to Reuters.
Gadaffi has deployed troops to the west of the capital to try to stop a revolt that started in the east from spreading. In the east, many soldiers have withdrawn from active service. abandoned military base near the eastern city of Tobruk.
Much of the country is shut down, including up to a quarter of oil output, prompting fears the crisis could stall global economic recovery.
Gaddafi, once respected by many Libyans despite his repressive rule, called for a mass show of support on Wednesday, but only around 150 people gathered in Tripoli's central Green Square, carrying the Libyan flag and Gaddafi's portrait.
Most streets were almost deserted at a time when they are normally packed with rush-hour traffic. A handful of cafes appeared to be the only businesses open despite government appeals for a return to work sent to subscribers of Libya's two state-controlled mobile phone companies.
"Lots of people are afraid to leave their homes in Tripoli and pro-Gaddafi gunmen are roaming around threatening any people who gather in groups," Marwan Mohammed, a Tunisian, said as he crossed Libya's western border into Tunisia.
An estimated 1.5 million foreign nationals are working or traveling in Libya and a third of the population of seven million are immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Witnesses described scenes of chaos as people tried to leave.
A British oil worker said he was stranded with 300 other people at a camp in the east of Libya, where he said local people had looted oil installations.
"We are living every day in fear of our lives as the local people are armed," James Coyle told the BBC. "They've looted ... the German camp next door, they've taken all their vehicles, all our vehicles ... everything. So we are here desperate for the British government to come and get us."
The British foreign office had no immediate comment.