The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 1 May 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Fifty-two former ambassadors, high commissioners and governors criticised Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, for supporting an American policy in Iraq that was ‘doomed to failure’. ‘The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement,’ their open letter said. It also spoke of ‘one-sided and illegal’ policies over Israel, which meant ‘abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land’. The letter was co-ordinated by Mr Oliver Miles, a former ambassador to Libya, and its supporters included Sir Crispin Tickell. There was a certain amount of grumbling among members of the Cabinet because Mr Blair had announced without their approval the referendum on the European Union constitution. In a speech on immigration, Mr Blair said: ‘We have begun a top-to-bottom analysis of the immigration system.’ Mr David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is to introduce a Bill in the autumn making identity cards, costing at least £35, compulsory before 2013; 10,000 people began trials of biometric cards immediately. Foreign visitors would not have to have a card. A hearing of the special immigration appeals commission before which Abu Hamza, the hook-handed Muslim cleric, is appealing against a decision by Mr Blunkett to revoke his British citizenship and so leave him open to deportation, was adjourned until 10 January next year. The Royal Mail dropped morning deliveries to many parts, and was obliged to pay millions of pounds compensation to customers for delays on top of this. Dixons is to close more than 100 underperforming branches out of 320 shops. A draft national curriculum for religious education advocated the teaching, in addition to Christianity, of ‘secular philosophies; for example, humanism’, ‘the importance of the environment’ and ‘human sexuality’. Michael Parkinson, the chat-show host, left the BBC after 33 years for ITV because his Saturday-evening slot will be taken by football. ‘When they bought the Premiership, they sold my playing field,’ he said.

European Union foreign ministers expressed annoyance that Greek Cypriots, part of the expanded EU from 1 May, voted against unification of the island in a referendum, although there was a majority in favour in Turkish Northern Cyprus. In Iraq suicide bombers in three boats attacked oil-export terminals offshore from Basra; it was claimed as the work of al-Qa’eda. American forces killed 43 militiamen in the city of Najaf, the site of the Imam Ali’s tomb, next to which Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi army, has his office. American aircraft and artillery attacked parts of Fallujah. In April 115 American troops were killed, in Iraq: the same number as were killed in the invasion in 2003. An Iraqi group calling itself the ‘Green Brigade’ said it would kill three Italian hostages unless ‘the Italian people organise demonstrations to protest against their government’s policy in Iraq’; a fourth hostage was killed on 14 April. Four terrorists set off a bomb and shot dead two people in the diplomatic quarter of Damascus; two of the bombers died. Hundreds of young Islamic militants attacked police stations in southern Thailand, killing five of the security forces and losing 105 of their own men. In North Korea a chemicals train exploded at Ryongchon, killing at least 161 and injuring 1,300. In Colombia three Irishmen, Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly, were found not guilty of ‘training for illegal activities’ Marxist terrorists in IRA bombing techniques. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was given a standing ovation as he arrived in Pretoria for the inauguration of the re-elected President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. A Qatari diplomat was caught speeding at 133 mph in the Mont Blanc tunnel, which has a limit of 45mph. Estée Lauder, the American cosmetics maker, died, aged 97. The face of Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ in the Louvre was said to be deteriorating because the poplar panel on which it is painted is warping. CSH