The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 18 September 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Stephen Byers, a former Cabinet minister, popped up on television to talk about Mr Alan Milburn, the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster with undefined responsibility for drawing up Labour policy before the election; ‘I think he would be an excellent leader of the Labour party and an excellent prime minister.’ Mr Frank Dobson, a former Cabinet minister, said the backbenches were ‘covered in failed prime ministers’. Miss Ruth Kelly became a minister for the Cabinet Office and Mr Kim Howells became minister for higher education. Mr Michael Howard took the opportunity to bring back Mr John Redwood into the shadow Cabinet; Mr Damian Green, Mr John Bercow and, after a little hesitation, Miss Julie Kirkbride departed from it. Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, attempted to persuade the Trades Union Congress that the government cared about employment rights. He then entered into talks with the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, the political face of the Irish Republican Army, in an attempt to restore a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Ken Barrett, 41, a former police special branch informer and member of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association, admitted in court the murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. A man dressed as Batman climbed on to a ledge next to the central balcony of Buckingham Palace, where he stayed for five hours in an attempt to draw attention to a pressure group; the Queen was in Scotland. A 15-year-old boy was charged with raping a teacher at an inner London school. The Food Standards Agency launched an attack on salt as a threat to public heath, for its role in increasing blood pressure.

About 70 people were killed in one day in Iraq. In Baghdad, helicopters in an American military mission to root out insurgents opened fire on a crowd of civilians, killing 12, including a reporter who cried ‘I’m dying, I’m dying’ on camera, in Haifa Street, which had been under effective control of anti-government forces. Nine other people in Baghdad were killed the same day by mortar and bomb attacks by insurgents. US marines killed 10 insurgents in the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad. Three Polish soldiers were killed in an ambush at Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad. Two days later, dozens were killed by a bomb in Haifa Street where men were queuing to join the police. At the same time 12 policemen were killed by a bomb at Baquba. In Jakarta a car bomb killed nine Indonesians outside the Australian embassy; the Islamist terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah, aligned to al-Qa’eda, was blamed. President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced that in future he would choose the country’s 89 regional governors. An explosion with a cloud two miles wide, in the North Korean province of Ryanggang on the Chinese border, was spotted by South Korean satellite. Mr Bill Rammell, a junior minister in the Foreign Office, on the first ministerial visit to communist North Korea, asked the North Korean foreign minister what it was; he said it was a mountain they had blown up for a hydro-electricity scheme. In the Caribbean, Hurricane Ivan, with winds of 160 mph, killed more than 60, striking Grenada (making homeless two thirds of its 90,000 people), Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cuba. Looters burnt United Nations offices in Herat, Afghanistan after President Hamid Karzai had a spot of trouble in a cabinet reshuffle, when Mr Ismael Khan, ‘The Lion of Herat’, who has a private army of thousands, refused to take up a job as minister for mines. Supporters of democracy gained another three seats, making a total of 25, fewer than they had hoped, in the 60-seat assembly in Hong Kong. Violent crime in the United States held steady last year at about one for every 44 US residents, compared with about one for every 20 people in 1993; this excludes murders, which rose from 16,200 to about 16,420. Sales of La Vache qui Rit processed cheese rose by 250 per cent in America after it was approved by the fashionable South Beach diet.