The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 13 December 2003

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, found new ways of increasing taxes to cover government deficits in his pre-Budget report; but he declared that he wanted to help small enterprises. British Gas is to raise prices for its gas and electricity by 5.9 per cent from next month. Rail fares will go up by an average of 4 per cent in January, with higher examples such as the company c2c increasing by 10.3 per cent peak-time travelcards between south Essex and London, and WAGN increasing cheap day returns for journeys between Cambridge and King’s Cross by 9.1 per cent, bringing the fare to £19.10. The United States dollar fell against the pound so that it was possible to buy more than $1.74 for a pound; this was the cheapest rate since 1992. Nicholas van Hoogstraten, the property developer jailed for the manslaughter of a business rival, cleared his name and was freed after serving a year because an appeal judge found he could not have foreseen that the attack by his henchmen would inevitably end in the death of the victim. In London 750,000 gathered to see the England rugby team go past in open-topped buses on their way to tea with the Queen to celebrate their victory in the World Cup. The Advertising Standards Authority forbade Barnardo’s publishing again images of a new-born baby with a cockroach in its mouth because it would ‘cause serious or widespread offence’; a spokesman for Barnardo’s said: ‘We make no apologies because we have raised the debate on child poverty.’ Sir Stephen Tumim, a former chief inspector of prisons, died, aged 73. David Hemmings, the film actor, died, aged 62. The Birmingham Northern Relief Road, a 27-mile toll-road alternative to the M6, was opened. Ozzy Osbourne, the Birmingham-born heavy-metal singer and much-loved television father-figure, broke a vertebra, collarbone and several ribs in a quad-bike accident on his Buckinghamshire estate. The Queen had an operation on her knee.

President Robert Mugabe said that Zimbabwe was leaving the Commonwealth. He was responding to a resolution by Commonwealth heads of government, meeting in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, that made the lifting of Zimbabwe’s suspension conditional on its restoring democracy and the rule of law. In Lusaka the trial began of Frederick Chiluba, the former president of Zambia, who is accused of unlawfully netting the equivalent of £30 million. Arnoldo Aleman, who was president of Nicaragua from 1997 to 2002, was sentenced to 20 years in jail and fined £6 million on corruption charges. In the Russian elections, the United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, won nearly half the seats in the Duma; nationalist parties did well too but both the Communists and the Western-leaning liberals did badly. It was feared that Mr Putin would want to change the constitution, but he said: ‘Our task is to stop any talk about the need to change the constitution.’ A suicide car-bomb exploded outside the National Hotel near Red Square in Moscow, killing five people. Earlier a suicide bomber killed 44 people on a train in southern Russia, near Chechnya. Nine children and an adult were killed in an American operation against terrorists in Afghanistan; in a separate incident six children and two adults were killed in a similar operation. A tribunal in Athens found guilty 15 members of November 17, the terrorist group that murdered 23 people, including Brigadier Stephen Saunders, a British officer killed in June 2000. French police in Pau arrested Gorka Palacios, 29, alleged to be the head of killer squads controlled by Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna, the Basque separatist terrorists. Shanghai planned to ban bicycles from its main roads from next year. Ethiopian farmers are turning from the cultivation of coffee and planting khat instead, according to a report by Oxfam. Nozomi (‘Hope’), an exploratory Japanese spaceship, a week away from orbiting Mars after a five-year journey, was abandoned in space after its electronic equipment was damaged by solar flares. CSH