The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 12 February 2005

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, proposed a points system, measuring desirable skills and suchlike qualities, to determine which immigrants from outside the European Community would be allowed to settle permanently in Britain. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) refused to return a man with alleged al-Qa’eda links to Belmarsh prison, where he had been driven mad; the Siac judge ruled that the Home Secretary had failed to prove ‘to the necessary standard’ his allegation that the man, known as G, had received two unidentified visitors at his home. Mr Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative party, proposed that prisoners should serve the whole of a minimum term specified by the courts. Mr Alastair Campbell admitted having been responsible for an advertisement that depicted the Tory leader, Mr Michael Howard, and Mr Oliver Letwin, the shadow chancellor, as flying pigs. Mr Campbell also sent an email suggesting that a good response to an inquiry from Newsnight on the matter would be: ‘Fuck off and cover something important you twats’; but he sent the email to Newsnight instead of a colleague, apparently by mistake. The Irish Republican Army sulked at being accused by the British and Irish governments of the £26 million Northern Bank robbery in Belfast; ‘We do not intend to remain quiescent within this unacceptable and unstable situation,’ it said. Professor Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep, was given permission by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to clone human embryos suffering from motor neurone disease in order to conduct experiments on them. BP announced a surplus of £8.7 billion. Shell had already announced a record net income of £9.82 billion, though it cut the figure for its proved oil and gas reserves by another 10 per cent. Miss Ellen MacArthur set a new record for sailing single-handed round the world, making the voyage of 27,000 miles in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds, more than a day less than the previous record. Even before her return to Falmouth she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

A ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israel was announced at a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where Mr Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian authority, met Mr Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel. The meeting was encouraged by Miss Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State of the United States, who visited the Middle East and invited the two leaders to meet President George Bush of the United States in Washington in the spring. In a speech in Paris, Miss Rice said: ‘America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda and Europe must stand ready to work with America.’ In Iraq a suicide bomber killed 21 outside an army recruitment centre; the day before a bomb in Mosul killed 12 policemen. The Iraqi Islamic party, a large Sunni faction, criticised American authorities for shooting dead four prisoners during a riot at a prison at Um Qasr. The oil minister of Saudi Arabia said it would be ‘difficult, if not impossible’ for terrorists to reach the kingdom’s oil installations. A car bomb, thought to be the work of Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna, the Basque separatist terrorists, exploded in Madrid, injuring more than 30. The Pope made a brief wireless broadcast from his hospital bed. Mr Zurab Zhvania, the Prime Minister of Georgia, died, apparently of carbon monoxide poisoning blamed on a gas heater at the house of a friend, who also died. Professor Seth Stein and Professor Emile Okal, from Northwestern University in Chicago, said that the earthquake that caused the devastating wave in the Indian Ocean last Boxing Day measured 9.3 on the Richter scale, the second biggest earthquake recorded, after one at 9.5 that struck Chile in 1960.