The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 10 January 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Michael Burgess, the Coroner of the Queen’s Household, opened the inquest on Diana, Princess of Wales, the conclusion of which, he said, would not come for more than a year; he had asked Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to investigate her death, which was on 31 August 1997; as Coroner for Surrey, Mr Burgess also opened an inquest on Dodi Fayed. The Daily Mirror published a sentence from a letter written by Diana in October 1996 saying, ‘My husband is planning “an accident’’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury, in order to make the path clear for him to marry.’ Mr Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, was readmitted to the Labour party, from which he was suspended in 2000 after standing against the Labour candidate for mayor. Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, visited British soldiers at Basra, in southern Iraq, after his family holiday at Sharm el-Sheik. He returned to Westminster to meet a fine old row about university fees. Mr Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said that British troops would remain in Iraq for years not months. British Airways flights to Washington were delayed on several days running through American anxieties about terrorism. A working party under the Rt Revd Michael Nazir Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, proposed, as one solution to the problematic consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England, that a non-geographical province could be set up with no women clergy. Firemen arriving at a fire at Warburton’s bakery in Wednesbury were stoned by youths suspected of starting it; 30 fire engines were needed. The Traffic Management Bill before Parliament made provision for local authority traffic wardens to impose fines of £100 on drivers who ignored ‘No Right Turn’ signs. Thousands of commuters found services by South West Trains cancelled after a mishap during engineering works at Clapham Junction; fares went up. Dotty, the Princess Royal’s bull terrier, was cleared of killing one of the Queen’s corgis when the blame fell on Florence, a bitch that five days later bit a maid called Ruby. There was not a peep out of Beagle 2, the British craft on Mars.

The United States dollar fell to an unprecedented $1.26 to the euro. The scandal of Parmalat, the Italian food group, grew, with the US Securities and Exchange Commission accusing it of ‘one of the largest and most brazen corporate financial frauds in history’. India and Pakistan are to start formal talks next month on disputed matters, including Kashmir. Iranian officials estimated that 50,000 had died in the earthquake around Bam last month; a woman in her nineties was rescued after eight days trapped in the rubble. A message said to be in the voice of Osama bin Laden was broadcast by al-Jazeera, the satellite channel, urging Muslims to ‘continue the jihad to check the conspiracies that are hatched against the Islamic nation’. A Boeing 737 charter jet operated by a Cairo company crashed into the Red Sea shortly after take-off from Sharm el-Sheik, killing all 148 on board, 133 of whom were French. In Afghanistan 502 delegates to a loya jirga approved a new constitution; presidential elections are planned for June. Mr Mikhail Saakashvili, who in November led popular demonstrations in Georgia against the regime of Mr Eduard Shevardnadze, won presidential elections by a large margin, although many in the autonomous region of Adjara boycotted the poll. The Chinese slaughtered 10,000 civet cats and related species in markets after a case of severe acute respiratory syndrome was diagnosed in Guangdong province; the creatures are suspected of harbouring the virus. Spirit, an American wheeled vehicle, sent back photographs from the surface of Mars.