The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 13 November 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The Saturday 17.35 Paddington to Plymouth train, operated by First Great Western, was derailed when it hit a car on a level crossing near Ufton, just before Aldermaston, Berkshire; the car driver and train driver and five passengers were killed and 150 of the 300 aboard injured. Three soldiers of the Black Watch were killed in a suicide bombing ambush 30 miles south-west of Baghdad, and another soldier in the regiment was killed later. Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, flew off eagerly to Washington for talks with President George Bush. The full scale of the rejection in a referendum of plans by Mr John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, to saddle the North-East with its own regional assembly was announced; 197,310 voted Yes and 696,519 voted No, with none of the 23 areas voting by less than two to one against the scheme. The Scottish Cabinet planned to impose fines of £3,600 on anyone who smokes in a pub or restaurant there. More than 200,000 civil servants went on strike for a day in protest against planned job cuts. Fred Dibnah, the steeplejack featured on popular television programmes, died, aged 66. Emlyn Hughes, the former England and Liverpool football captain, died, aged 57. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which unsuccessfully took legal action to stop the Franklin Mint in America producing memorabilia featuring the late princess, had a case for malicious prosecution brought against it by the Franklin Mint in Los Angeles. Sir Elton John managed to use the words fucking, tits, wank, bugger and bollocks on a morning programme on Radio 1. Islington Council told St Mary Magdalene Church of England school that when it becomes a ‘city academy’ it must drop the word ‘saint’ because it might offend some groups. Thieves in Newham, in east London, stole 35 manhole covers and 227 drain covers.

The Iraqi government declared 60 days of emergency rule. After days of aerial attack, 15,000 American troops launched an assault on Fallujah with heavy street fighting. Women, children and old men had been told to flee the city. Earlier, rebels stormed three police stations in the towns of Haditha and Haqlaniyah, 140 miles north-west of Baghdad, killing 22 policemen, some of whom were lined up and shot. The day before, 17 policemen and 12 civilians had been killed in attacks in Samarra, and later 11 policemen were killed in Baquba. President Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority spent days near death in a military hospital outside Paris. When President Bush was asked about the prematurely reported death of Mr Arafat, he said: ‘My first reaction is, God bless his soul.’ Military aeroplanes belonging to the government of the Ivory Coast launched an attack on the town of Bouake that killed nine of the 4,000 French peacekeepers in the divided country; France retaliated within hours, destroying on the ground Ivory Coast’s newly expanded air force. France then used military force to counter angry attacks on its 14,000 citizens in Ivory Coast. In Madrid, Judge Baltasar Garzon jailed two Algerians and a Moroccan, bringing to 33 the number held in investigations into an alleged plot to blow up the national court in the capital; the men have not been charged, but can be held for up to two years under Spanish anti-terrorist legislation. To celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova addressed a rally of 4,000 in the capital, Chisinau, arranged by the Communist party, which came to power in Moldova in 2001. The dollar weakened until more than $1.29 could be bought for a euro. An 89,000-ton oil tanker, the Liberian-registered Tropic Brilliance, got stuck athwart the Suez Canal, blocking the passage of dozens of ships and defying the efforts of tugs to shift her. In western Uganda 194 hippopotamuses died of anthrax.

CSH