The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 12 March 2005

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The government was defeated in the House of Lords by 249 to 119 when a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was passed — to apply the prior sanction of a judge rather than the say-so of a home secretary to all proposed control orders, not merely those that stipulated house arrest. The next day five votes in the Lords went against the government; 24 Labour peers voted against their party when a ‘sunset clause’ was added to the Bill. Among those who voted against the government were Lord Irvine, the former Labour Lord Chancellor, and Lord Condon, a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Sir John Stevens, until January the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had written in the News of the World that ‘the main opposition to the Bill, it seems to me, is from people who simply haven’t understood the brutal reality of the world we live in and the true horror of the terrorism we face’; he said that possibly 200 al-Qa’eda-trained terrorists were walking the streets of Britain. The Irish Republican Army stated that it had offered to shoot three men alleged to have been involved in the murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast in February; his family said that instead they wanted justice in the courts. Black boys should be taught in separate classes according to Mr Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. A report for the Commission for Racial Equality by Sir David Calvert-Smith found that 42 per cent of Chinese applicants to the police were rejected on the grounds of their inability to show ‘respect for race and diversity’. The shoulder of Mrs Margaret Dixon of Warrington, aged 69, was seized upon by the political parties because an operation to mend it had been cancelled seven times, or, some said, only twice. Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, the former England cricketer and bishop of Liverpool, died, aged 75. Customs officers allegedly found 230lb of snails in a Nigerian woman’s luggage at Heathrow airport; she has been charged with importing prohibited foodstuffs.

Syria said it would withdraw its troops from Lebanon; some troops were then gathered in the Bekaa valley, which is where most are grouped in any case. Syrian withdrawal had been demanded by the United States, and then urged by Saudi Arabia, after Lebanese street demonstrations against the occupation. Hezbollah, the Islamist militant organisation, encouraged demonstrations in favour of Syria. American troops in Iraq shot at a vehicle carrying Giuliana Sgrena — an Italian hostage released from a month’s captivity — to the airport, wounding her and killing Nicola Calipari, a secret service man trying to protect her. Abu Bakar Bashir, said to be the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the south-east Asian affiliate to al-Qa’eda, was sentenced to only 30 months in jail for his part in a conspiracy that led to the murder of 202 people in the Bali bombings of 2002. Hong Kong awaited the resignation of its Beijing-appointed chief executive Mr Tung Chee-hwa. Elections in Moldova left control with the Communists, who seek closer ties with the European Union. The Deutsche Börse withdrew its offer for the London Stock Exchange after resistance by its own shareholders; the way was left open for the Paris-based Euronext stock exchange to have a go. Russia killed Aslan Maskhadov who, since 1994, had led Chechen armed resistance. Rival gangs fighting to control the drugs trade in the provincial jail at Higuey in the Dominican Republic started a fire that killed more than 130. Police in Zanzibar raided the homes of opposition politicians in the middle of the night and arrested 18, some of whom suffered broken arms, legs and skulls, according to their colleagues. A computerised tomography scan of the mummy of Tutankhamun found that the king had broken a leg shortly before his death at the age of 19. A 104-year-old woman, Mrs Cui Yu Hu, faces deportation to China from Australia because she is ineligible for an aged parent visa, having overstayed her tourist visa in 1995 when no airline would risk carrying her back because she was too old.