The wedding of the Prince of Wales and Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles was suddenly postponed for a day because it clashed with the funeral in Rome of Pope John Paul II on 8 April. The Prince of Wales was to represent the Queen at the funeral, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was to perform a service of dedication for the couple, also wanted to go to the funeral, as indeed did Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister. Mr Blair said that he was postponing an audience with the Queen for a day as a ‘mark of respect’ for the Pope; after the delayed audience he announced that Parliament was to be dissolved and a general election held on 5 May, as everyone had expected. The Grand National was postponed from 3.45 to 4.10 because of the rescheduling of the wedding. A survey of those with ‘absolutely certain’ voting intentions, by Mori for the Financial Times, gave the Conservatives 39 per cent and Labour 34 per cent. A court found six Labour councillors in Birmingham guilty of electoral fraud at last year’s council election; Mr Richard Mawrey QC, a High Court judge sitting as an election commissioner, said that the episode would ‘disgrace a banana republic’. He said, ‘Short of writing “Steal Me” on the envelopes’ it would be hard to see what more could be done to ensure that postal ballots fell into the wrong hands; ‘fraud will continue unabated’, he said, until there were systems to counter it. In the forthcoming election 15 per cent of votes are expected to be cast postally. MG Rover failed to convince either the British government to give it a £100 million loan or the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp to mount a rescue bid.
The Pope died, aged 84. Karol Wojtyla, born on 18 May 1920, had been elected Pope on 16 October 1978, when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, taking the name John Paul II in continuity with Pope John XXIII (reigned 1958–63), Pope Paul VI (reigned 1963–78) and Pope John Paul I (reigned 26 August to 28 September 1978). During his reign of 26 years, Pope John Paul II made 104 foreign trips, visited 317 of Rome’s 333 parishes, canonised 482 saints, created 232 cardinals, nominated more than half of the world’s 4,000-odd bishops and spoke to 17,600,000 pilgrims at weekly audiences in Rome. He died at 21.37, Rome time, on Saturday 2 April in his apartments at the Vatican, having declined to be taken back into the Gemelli hospital, where he had been given an emergency tracheotomy a few days earlier. He was to be buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica, in the tomb space vacated by Pope John XXIII when his body was transferred into the main church on his beatification in 2000. In Zimbabwe the government declared that the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) had won 78 of the 120 seats contested in the general election, against 41 seats for the Movement for Democratic Change. The result was widely regarded as the result of electoral malpractice. Two journalists from the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Toby Harnden, a foreign correspondent, and Mr Julian Simmonds, a photographer, were arrested in Zimbabwe charged with reporting events and brought to court in handcuffs. A three-day shoot-out between security forces and supporters of al-Qa’eda at ar-Rass in central Saudi Arabia ended with the deaths of 10 militants, according to government sources. Prince Rainier III of Monaco died, aged 81. Saul Bellow, the novelist, died, aged 89. Sir Mark Thatcher, Bt, who has lived in South Africa since 1995, was refused a visa to be reunited with his wife and two children in the United States; ‘As a result of this decision,’ he said, ‘I shall make the family home in Europe.’