BENGHAZI, LIBYA // At least five protesters were killed after militias loyal to Muammar Qaddafi have fired on crowds trying to break up protest marches in the capital, residents said.
Several media outlets reported that forces opened fire after prayers on Friday.
"The security forces fired indiscrimately on the demonstrators," a resident told Agence France-Presse.
Residents of other eastern suburbs, including Ben Ashur and Fashlum, said they had witnessed "sustained gunfire against anyone in the streets."
Another witness told the Associated Press that protesters demanding Col Qaddafi's ouster marched out of a mosque in central Tripoli on Friday, chanting. He said troops and gunmen in civilian clothes flooded in and fired in the air, sending some protesters running.
Other residents say gunfire is being heard in other neighbourhoods of the capital as well. Col Qaddafi's opponents called for residents to pour out of mosques following Friday prayer - the first attempt at a major protest since deadly clashes on Tuesday. Loyalist militiamen clamped down hard on Friday morning, blocking off mosques and setting up checkpoints in the streets.
International momentum also has been building for action to punish Col Qaddafi's regime for the bloodshed.
Reuters reported Britain is sending a Royal Navy destroyer to the coast of Libya and is drawing up plans to pull out British oil workers stranded in desert camps in the country, the British prime minister, David Cameron, said.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said on Friday that the bloc needs to consider sanctions such as travel restrictions and an asset freeze against Libya to achieve a halt to the violence there and move towards democracy.
Nato's main decision-making body also planned to meet in emergency session on Friday to consider the deteriorating situation.
The UN's top human rights official, Navi Pillay, meanwhile, said reports of mass killings of thousands in Libya should spur the international community to "step in vigorously" to end the crackdown against anti-government protesters.
However, France said it did not see the need for Nato to meet over the protests despite the bloc's leader having called such a meeting.
"It's up to Nato's secretary general (Anders Fogh Rasmussen) to decide on a meeting," a foreign ministry spokesman said. "France, which is already bringing the matter before the UN Security Council, does not see the need for a meeting of Nato's council on Libya."
* With reporting by agencies