The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 17 May 2003

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, resigned on the pretext that the Prime Minister had broken his assurances that the UN would be more involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. Mr Blair, she told the Commons, should start thinking about resigning himself and prepare for 'an elegant succession'. Within half an hour, the Prime Minister had appointed Lady Amos to Ms Short's job, suggesting that he had been preparing to sack Ms Short anyway. An IRA hitman called Alfredo Scappaticci, said to be head of the organisation's 'nutting squad', was alleged to have been helping British intelligence for years under a codename 'Stakeknife' or 'Steak Knife'. Mr Scappaticci later denied it. Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, unveiled new outfits for judges, which make them look like priests. The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, described mediaeval historians as 'ornaments' and suggested that the state should no longer pay for their activities. The Conservative party promised to drop tuition fees and cut the number of university places. The splendidly named HM Inspector of Anatomy claimed that 100,000 brains have been illegally retained for research, with morticians paid a bounty of £10 a time to obtain them. A private school in north London expelled one of its star pupils after he failed to turn up for the school photograph. The European Commission took the government to court for giving planning permission for a large white horse cut into natural chalk grassland over the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. The Food Standards Agency warned that too many vitamins are bad for the health. Ann Summers, a chainstore selling sex toys, sued the government for discrimination after being banned from allowing to advertise staff vacancies at job centres. The Queen's cousin, Marina Mowatt, was revealed to be living on housing benefit. The Countess of Wessex announced that she is pregnant. An inquest ruled that Michael Malsbury, a minicab driver from Harrow, was committing suicide when he besieged his wife in his house, then waved a gun at armed police saying, 'Better get your guns out, lads, I'm coming out.'

The US withdrew from Iraq its temporary governor, General Jay Garner, and also Barbara Bodine, who had been running the Baghdad region; a civilian, Paul Bremer, will now have a go at governing the country. Cheering crowds of Shiites gathered not to welcome him but to greet their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, who has returned to Iraq after spending the last 23 years in exile in Iran. In Baghdad, all off-licences closed after Muslim fundamentalists murdered a Catholic wine-seller. At least 40 people were killed in a series of suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, one of which struck a housing complex used by an American company. The American President, George W. Bush, told the bombers, most of whom were killed in the raids, that they 'will learn the meaning of American justice'. US secretary of state Colin Powell went ahead with a planned visit to Riyadh. Earlier, Mr Powell had met the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinian, Prime Minister, Abu Mazen, in an attempt to embark on a journey along the so-called 'road-map' for peace in the Middle East. A bomb concealed in a lorry killed 40 people in what is left of the Chechnyan capital, Grozny. The rear doors fell off an aeroplane in the Congo, causing some 130 passengers to be sucked out to their deaths. King Mohammed VI of Morocco ordered the release of 9,400 prisoners in celebration of the birth of his son, Moulay Hassan. Interpol appointed Zimbabwe's national police chief an honorary vice-president. France was disrupted by a series of strikes by public-sector workers moaning about plans to make them work extra years for their pensions. Lithuania voted to join the European Union, after voting was extended to a second day to allow countryfolk to plant their potatoes. Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, who was elected on a promise to improve law and order, had his wallet stolen in a walkabout in the city of Bucaramanga.