Kofi Annan

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♦ With normal post-recession government employment expansion, US unemployment might be as low as 6.3 percent, but this recovery is different, argues Derek Thompson.
♦ Spain has become a destination for vitro fertilization and there is no shortage of egg donors. Der Spiegel talks to one woman who donated eggs to ease her financial difficulties.
♦ The Bhutto family has been notably absent from campaigning in Pakistan. The FT looks at whether this is the beginning of the end for the Pakistan People’s Party.  

Here’s what we’ve been chatting about today: 

Roula Khalaf

AFP/Getty Images

In the scramble for ways to address Syria’s spiralling violence UN envoy Kofi Annan and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad agreed on an approach earlier this week: work from the bottom up on local ceasefires in the most devastated areas of the country. The approach was discussed during Mr Annan’s trip to Damascus, but immediately raised questions in western capitals, according to diplomatic sources. 

Roula Khalaf

Kofi Annan. Photo: Reuters

Kofi Annan, the international envoy on Syria, is trying to salvage his six-point peace plan with an international conference in Geneva this Saturday to build consensus over the form of a political transition.

The UN and Arab League backed plan was in tatters long before today’s statement from the UN that the violence in Syria has, at least, matched levels reached before ceasefire brokered in April. 

Esther Bintliff

A UN observer takes pictures of bodies of people killed in Houla. Reuters/Shaam News Network

A UN observer photographs the bodies of some of those killed in Houla. Reuters/Shaam News Network

As images of the victims of last week’s Houla massacre were broadcast around the world, and the stories of their deaths began to be told, the wave of outrage and horror in the international community gained force. The White House denounced an act of “unspeakable and inhuman brutality”; the UK foreign secretary spoke of an “appalling crime”; the UN security council condemned the “outrageous use of force against [a] civilian population”, and said it constituted a “violation of applicable international law”.

Yet for all this, the next step is troublingly unclear. The killing of 108 civilians, among them 49 children, was only the latest in a series of atrocities that have taken place under the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in the past 14 months. More than 9,000 Syrians are thought to have died in this period, including members of the security forces or suspected regime sympathisers who were killed by the armed opposition. While UN envoy Kofi Annan says that a “tipping point” in the crisis has now been reached, the UN security council itself remains hindered by the positions of Russia and China, both of whom have dug in their heels against external intervention. So what are the arguments for and against action, and what form could it take?