Muammar el-Qaddafi seems to being going with a scorched earth-lite policy of dealing with protesters in Libya — he's allegedly hired African mercenaries to bolster his troops, who have been wantonly killing civilians and shooting people at funerals.

Today is the fifth day of protests against Brother Leader's four decades rule, and the bloodshed is only getting worse. Some 200 people have been killed so far across the country, most of them in the restive eastern city of Benghazi — the country's second-largest. The Times has some details of today's shootings, but with journalists barred from entering the country, and communications there severely hampered, much of the information coming out of Libya is difficult to confirm. This paragraph from today's Times story is particularly awful:

The shooting at the funeral, where the number of casualties could not immediately be confirmed, reinforced what seems to have become a deadly cycle in a city where thousands have gathered in antigovernment demonstrations: security forces fire on funeral marches, killing more protesters, creating more funerals.

One resident of Benghazi, speaking to Al Jazeera, simply described the city as a "war zone," and reports have come out of snipers firing on protesters from helicopters. The developments over the last week in Libya serve as yet another reminder of how Western leaders coddle Qaddafi in exchange for lucrative oil and natural gas deals, thereby strengthening his already heavy hand. The violence being meted out against civilians in the streets from Algiers and Benghazi, to Manama and Sana'a should serve as a major wake up call to Western governments about who exactly they're backing and calling "key regional allies." It's easy to criticize countries like Iran for cracking down on its citizens, but our "allies" are doing the exact same thing, and much of the time with financial and diplomatic support (as well as huge weapons deals).

For daily amateur video uploads from Libya, check out this YouTube channel, but warning: many of the videos are extremely graphic.

Video of protesters after being shot in Libya, via ITN:

[Image via AP]