Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's fragile grip on power was slipping last night as organised rebel groups spread into the Libyan capital Tripoli and protesters blocked oil exports.
The ruler's powerbase appeared limited to parts of the city and several regions in the centre of Libya as towns in the west fell into the hands of opponents set on bringing an end to his 41-year rule.
Meanwhile, Col Gaddafi desperately blamed Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers for the mounting uprising.
With all of eastern Libya firmly in the hands of the protesters, Col Gaddafi has been battling to shore up support in the east, but it emerged yesterday that all southern oilfields were in rebel control, with a blockade on exports in place.
At least 23 people have been killed and 44 wounded in the Libyan town of Zawiya - which is just 30 miles from Tripoli - after fresh clashes between opponents of Col Gaddafi and forces loyal to him.
Two days after a nationwide address declaring he was prepared to die a martyr, Col Gaddafi claimed protesters were fuelled by milk and Nescafe spiked with hallucinogenic drugs by Islamic terrorists.
In a rambling appeal for calm, he also compared his 41 years as ruler of Libya with the Queen's 59-year reign over Britain and the Commonwealth.
Speaking to state television by telephone, he said: "I have got no orders, no say in what the people do, the power they have. It's not my problem.
"When they come back and when they stop using the drugs, they will realise what they are doing, the damage they are causing to the country. Those I have spoken to have shown remorse and regretted it.
"It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda. Those armed youngsters, our children, are incited by people who are wanted by America and the Western world."
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After the speech, protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is now out of Col Gaddafi's control, could be seen stamping on photographs of the Libyan leader.
"This is the speech of a dead man," said Said el-Gareeny, a 35-year-old engineer. "He is trying to divide us, but we are one nation."
Basic order is returning to the streets of Benghazi after days of fierce fighting that resulted in the military defecting en masse.
Government buildings have been looted and wrecked.
The country's second largest city is now being run by a makeshift committee of judges, lawyers and other professionals who have sent out young people to direct traffic and restore order.
The town of Misrata, about halfway between Benghazi and Tripoli, was reported to have fallen after days of violence. But forces loyal to the Libyan leader launched a fierce attack on anti-government militias there, close to its airport, yesterday.
The most fierce fighting was in the west, in Zawiya 30 miles from Tripoli, where an army unit attacked the city's Souq Mosque. Regime opponents had been camped for days in the building.
A doctor at a field clinic set up at the mosque said he saw the bodies of ten shot dead, as well as around 150 wounded.
Witnesses said people in civilian clothes, who appeared to be from opposing sides in the Libyan crisis, were firing at each other in the streets of Zawiya.
"It is chaotic there. There are people with guns and swords," said Mohamed Jaber, who passed through Zawiya on his way to Tunisia on Thursday. Al Jazeera television broadcast pictures of what it said was a burning police station in Zawiya.
Zuara, further west from Zawiya, was said to be in the hands of anti-government militias and defence committees of civilians, with no sign of police.
There are four strategic locations that are likely to hold the key to whether Gaddafi survives or falls: the capital, Col Gaddafi's home town of Sirte to the east, and the Gulf of Sirte oil terminals Ras Lanuf and Marsa el-Brega.
The uprising in the Cyrenaica region around Benghazi last week wrested it away from central control, possibly setting the stage for a civil war unless he is toppled first.
Peter Zeihan, an analyst with the US-based Stratfor think tank, said: "We know that Benghazi . . . has basically declared independence from Tripoli. If Benghazi can expand down into the Gulf of Sirte . . . they've got a very good shot at independence at the least - or maybe even overturning him at the most, but if they can't do that, Gaddafi in time will be able to pressure them."
Meanwhile, witnesses in Tripoli said there was no sign that Col Gaddafi's forces had lost control there, with uniformed police directing traffic as usual, state television continuing to broadcast and pro-Gaddafi supporters holding a rally.
However, there were accounts of police and soldiers vanishing and anti-Gaddafi militias patrolling the streets in towns within an hour's drive from the capital.