The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 15 February 2003

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Thousands prepared to march to Hyde Park in London to demonstrate opposition to war against Iraq; they included Mr Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party. About 400 soldiers from the Grenadier Guards and Household Cavalry with armoured cars began to patrol Heathrow airport, authorised by Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister. The England cricket team decided not to play in the World Cup in Zimbabwe out of fear of a death threat, they said. On television Mr Blair gave Mr Jeremy Paxman an undertaking about the number of applications for asylum being made: 'I would like to see us reduce it by 30-40 per cent in the next few months, and I think by September of this year we should have it halved.' Mr David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, was said to have remarked that this target was 'undeliverable', but Home Office spokesmen said Mr Blair had been 'indicating what our broad expectation of the policy is'. Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, decided not to take the 12.6 per cent rise of £22,691 a year recommended by an independent review body but instead to take 2.25 per cent, an increase of £4,051 on his present salary of £180,045. Teachers were awarded 2.9 per cent (although those in London got 4 per cent); soldiers got 3.2 per cent, with most privates seeing an increase from £12,578 to £13,045. A survey found that 51 per cent of Britons suffered work-related nightmares at least once a week. The so-called Continuity IRA set off a bomb in the centre of Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, but did not manage to kill anyone. Canon Tom Wright, aged 54, who has published more than 30 books on godly themes, was named the next Bishop of Durham. Sales of recorded music fell by 4 per cent last year, through the copying of compact discs and Internet files. A 30ft deep hole swallowed up three gardens of houses in Stratford, east London, where boring for the Channel Tunnel rail link had been under way. Last year 17,671 people required hospital treatment after trying to open tins, excluding corned beef tins which alone accounted for 9,000 injuries.

A tape said to be the voice of Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qa'eda terrorist network, was broadcast by al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based station: 'We stress the importance of martyrdom operations against the enemy,' it said, 'these attacks that have scared Americans and Israelis like never before.' It also referred to the Iraqi government as 'infidels'. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was plunged into crisis by two things: a veto by Belgium, France and Germany on immediate Nato help for Turkey to defend itself with missiles; and 'Project Mirage', a sudden proposal by France and Germany to prevent war against Iraq by sending thousands of United Nations troops and hundreds of weapons inspectors there. President Vladimir Putin of Russia visited France and publicly supported plans for increased inspections in Iraq. Mr Donald Rumsfeld, the American secretary of state, speaking in Munich, showed his anger at such proposals: 'I heard about it from the press - no official word.' Earlier he had been lectured in public by Mr Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, speaking in English: 'My generation learned you must make a case, and, excuse me, I am not convinced.' In reaction to the Franco-German plan, Miss Condoleezza Rice, the American national security adviser, said: 'Europe would have been in very dark circumstances of Nazism and communism had it not been for the willingness of America to risk American lives for what was not at the time, many believed, a direct threat to the American homeland.' Iran said that it had begun to mine uranium, but averred that it would be used solely to produce electricity. Israel closed borders with Palestinian areas despite an earlier decision to ease travel restrictions during the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Adha. Fourteen were trampled to death in crowds on the hadj to Mecca.