Estimates that some 1,000 people have been killed in Libya's uprising are credible, the Italian foreign minister said Wednesday.
Minister Franco Frattini cautioned that information on the number of deaths was incomplete. But "we believe that the estimates of about 1,000 are credible," he said in a speech to a Catholic organization in Rome before a briefing in parliament on the unrest.
Italian news reports have said that witnesses and hospital sources in Libya estimate there are 1,000 dead in Tripoli alone. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at nearly 300, according to a partial count.
Later, while briefing Parliament, Frattini cited no death toll figures, but said "the tragic number will be a bloodbath."
Italy has extensive energy, construction and other business interests in the north African country and decades of strong ties. Libya is Italy's biggest supplier of oil and the country was one of the few European countries to adopt a measured tone about the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Libya.
But, Frattini called Tuesday for the "horrible bloodshed" to cease immediately despite Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi's vow to fight on and cling to power.
He also expressed worry about the proclamation of a so-called "Islamic Emirate of Eastern Libya" by some tribes, telling lawmakers that Islamic radicals in the region were seeking to kidnap Westerners.
He said the eastern Cyrenaica province, based on information from the country's embassy, was no longer under government control, "while in the other areas there are, I would say, riots, people shooting."
In an interview Wednesday in Corriere della Sera, Frattini noted that Italy had closed its consulate in eastern Cyrenaica five years ago because of the dangers.