The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 11 September 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Andrew Smith resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. This added interest to a Cabinet reshuffle by Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and provoked reheated speculation about his rivalry with Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Queen gave a donation for the people of Beslan, through the British Red Cross. Mr Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said of the murders by terrorists at Beslan: ‘There are some things which happen amongst human kind which are almost inexplicable according to any basic moral norms — Nazism was and this is.’ Mr Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the editor of the al-Arabiya satellite network, said on BBC radio that the majority of terrorists in the world today are Muslim; in response Mr Straw said: ‘At the moment, it is principally those of the Islamic faith that claim in a totally perverted way to justify their actions by reference to the faith.’ Mr Alex Salmond resumed his post as leader of the Scottish Nationalist party. The Scottish Parliament, built at a cost of £430 million, opened; in 1997 its cost had been predicted at between £10 and £40 million. The committee on standards in public life said in a report that, with regard to public appointments, ‘there is a widespread perception that formal procedures are often bypassed in favour of cronyism’. A letter to the Times from 755 Roman Catholic priests said that the Mental Capacity Bill before Parliament would legalise ‘euthanasia by omission’. Mr Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, told schools: ‘Pupils should be permitted to carry water with them and consumption encouraged both in class and during break.’

More than 330 people, half of them children, died after a group of Chechen terrorists took over School No. 1 at Beslan in the North Ossetia region of southern Russia. Armed men and women kept hundreds in a sweltering gymnasium without food or water for three days, while explosives were rigged up. The end came when an explosion sent children and adults running to escape, while bullets flew and Russian troops attempted to retake the school. At least 30 terrorists were killed. Distressed parents spent days trying to find out if their children were dead. More than 400 wounded were taken to hospital. President Vladimir Putin of Russia said in a televised speech: ‘We must create a much more effective system of security.’ General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, said, ‘We will be taking action to eliminate terrorist bases in any region of the world.’ It emerged that the terrorists had made preparations weeks before at the school. Fighting in the Sadr City suburb of Baghdad left 24 Iraqis and one American soldier dead. Seven United States marines and three Iraqi soldiers were killed by a car bomb on the outskirts of Fallujah. A gang that said it was holding two French journalists kidnapped in Iraq on 20 August demanded $5 million from France. Two Italian aid workers were kidnapped in Baghdad. Israeli aircraft fired six missiles at members of the Izzedine al-Qassem brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, killing 14 militants and wounding many more as they drilled at midnight on a football pitch in Gaza City. A Dutchman, Mr Fritz Bolkestein, the European Union’s single market commissioner, said in a speech: ‘After the accession of Turkey, the EU will not be able to continue its current agriculture and regional policies. Europe would implode.’ Mr William Clinton, the former President of the United States, had bypass surgery to his heart; he spent the evening before on the telephone to Mr John Kerry, the Democrat presidential candidate, who was lagging ten percentage points behind his Republican rival, President George Bush. Hurricane Frances swept over Florida as Hurricane Ivan gathered in the Atlantic, the third to approach the United States in a month.