Daily Archives: February 5, 2014

The Syrian armed forces that took control of the Homs province town of Deir Balbi in 2012 wanted to show the locals they meant business and avoid attacks by approaching rebel units. So they forced children out of their homes, and allegedly placed them as human shields between their tanks and soldiers to dissuade the rebels from attacking.

The incident is described in a harrowing report issued by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, chronicling the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on the country’s children, and adds fresh urgency to efforts to end the war. At least 10,000 children have died as casualties or combatants of war or under torture in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the report estimates. Read more

By Toby Luckhurst

  • The Sochi Olympics will only temporarily distract from Russia’s increasing economic problems, writes Kathrin Hille.
  • Figure skater Johnny Weir talks about the Russian obsession with skating and their attitudes towards homosexuality.
  • Journalists are arriving in Sochi for the start of the Winter Olympics to find their accommodation is still being built.
  • A New York Times interactive map series on the spread of violence in the Caucasus.
  • Egyptian actress Soheir al-Babli has called for “a man as strong as Hitler” to assert authority over the turbulent country.
  • Dr Hisham A Hellyer salutes the journalists in Egypt who are trying to hold power to account in a country that is increasingly hostile to their work.
  • Fatima Khan is determined to learn the facts behind the death of her son, Dr Abbas Khan, in a Syrian prison.
  • A UN report released on Monday details the abuses children are enduring in the ongoing conflict in Syria.
  • Vanity Fair examines the relationship between Wendi Deng, ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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Guy Verhofstadt (Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP/Getty)

The three main candidates to be the next head of the European Commission are now clear: Martin Schulz will be the left’s candidate; Guy Verhofstadt will be the standard-bearer for the liberals; and Jean-Claude Juncker will be the candidate of the centre-right, having apparently secured the all-important backing of Angela Merkel. (The German chancellor’s office has declined to confirm officially that Merkel is backing Juncker – but press reports, including in the FT, seem pretty certain.)

The most striking thing about this list is how very traditional it is. The EU has just been through a wrenching crisis that has raised questions about its very survival. And it is also now a club of 28 countries. But the three main candidates for Commission president are all traditional European federalists – drawn from the six founding member states. Read more