Volunteers were pleading for international help last night as Libya began to experience food and medical shortages.
In the rebel-held east, workers said they were running low on fresh produce while in the capital some shops had closed, with others limiting the amount they were willing to sell as prices rocketed.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi showed no outward sign of doubt of his country's continued loyalty. "All my people love me," he told foreign reporters in Tripoli. "They would die to protect me." But elsewhere a public health volunteer painted a far bleaker picture, warning that supplies of food in the country's second city of Benghazi could reach crisis point, with many shops and factories still closed since the city fell to protesters a week ago.
"We will have serious shortages of food, drink, medicine and medical equipment in two weeks, three weeks maximum. We need outside help," said Khalifa el-Faituri.
While the port and border with Egypt remain open, thousands of migrant workers who worked in the supply chains have fled the country. "I'm struggling to find basics for my family. Bread, vegetables. Prices have gone up by 75 per cent," said restaurant waiter Ayman Ahmed, 50.
In the capital, where long lines were forming outside banks to receive the equivalent of $400 per family that Colonel Gaddafi has pledged in an effort to shore up public loyalty, the price of staples such as rice has risen by 500 per cent.
In Paris, Prime Minister François Fillon said France was sending two planes with humanitarian supplies to Benghazi, the first Western aid. Mr Fillon said that military options remained open so that "Gaddafi understands that he should go".
But the Libyan leader appeared to understand no such thing. Last night he laughed at suggestions that he would leave the country after the White House said that exile would be an option.
In the two opposition-held cities closest to Tripoli – Zawiya and Misrata – rebel forces were locked in stand-offs. In Zawiya, residents were fearful last night of attack, with pro-Gaddafi forces said to be massing in armoured vehicles and tanks on its western edge.
In Misrata, the third largest city, anti-Gaddafi fighters said they had repelled an attack. Ahmed El-Fajil, a member of the "citizens' force", claimed in a telephone call that a regime helicopter had been shot down. "We know that brothers from the east are coming to join us and we also know that many soldiers will come over to our side. Very soon our city will be as free," he said.
In Tripoli pro-Gaddafi fighters dispersed marchers with gunfire yesterday.