The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 21 August 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Eight men, arrested two weeks ago, were charged with planning to commit murder and to launch radiological, chemical, gas or bomb attacks. A-level candidates did better than ever; Mr David Miliband, the schools minister, said evidence from reports he had seen did not suggest ‘dumbing-down’. Mr Richard Thomas, the independent Information Commissioner, criticised the Home Office’s plans for identity cards, saying, ‘My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society.’ Mr Peter Mandelson was made trade commissioner by Mr José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. A sudden flood washed through Boscastle, Cornwall, destroying several houses and carrying away 50 cars; dozens of people trapped in houses were rescued by helicopter. Police found two men they suspected of separate murders hiding in the same square mile of woodland near Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire; one had been there about a month, the other for about a fortnight. More than 500 revellers in 200 cars arrived at an all-night rave in a clearing in woodland on the Sandringham estate, Norfolk; police monitored the party, but no arrests were made. The event was audible from Sandringham House, but the Queen was at Balmoral. Mr Shaun Brady was dismissed as general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen by its left-wing executive. Rail delays fell for the tenth consecutive month, leaving about 15 per cent of trains late. British Airways check-in staff threatened to strike over the bank holiday weekend at the end of August. Merrill Lynch, the investment bankers, decided to stop sponsoring the Chelsea Flower Show after five years. The remains of a 40-acre fortified Roman settlement dating from the 1st century ad, which once had a population of 1,000, was found under farmland near Rangeworthy, Gloucestershire.

American forces surrounded the area of the old city and Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, where the Shia militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers had taken up positions. A three-day national conference of 1,300 Iraqis in Baghdad sent a delegation to Najaf in an attempt to find a settlement, but the delegates were not received. Followers of al-Sadr’s Mahdi army asserted themselves in Sadr City, a large suburb of Baghdad, and southern cities including Basra. President George Bush of the United States announced that 70,000 troops would be withdrawn from bases around the world; of the 45,000 to be withdrawn from Europe, most will come from the 74,000 based in Germany. Thousands of the 8,000 Palestinians held prisoner in Israel went on hunger strike in pursuit of better conditions. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela survived a referendum on whether he should immediately end his term of office, due to end in January 2007. Hurricane Charley hit Florida with wind speeds of 145mph, killing 16, devastating 35 per cent of the citrus-growing area and causing damage costing more than $8 billion. Two men were injured by two bombs set off by Euzkadi ta Askatasuna, the Basque terrorists, in the coastal cities of Gijon and and Santander. Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet and Nobel prize winner, died, aged 93. Mr Ngugi wa Thing’o, the Kenyan writer, was assaulted by burglars only days after returning from 22 years in exile. It was confirmed that two children who died in Vietnam earlier this month were infected with the strain of avine influenza that swept through the poultry of Asia this year. Mr Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, and his wife were greeted by Mr Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy, at his Sardinian villa, wearing a handkerchief over his head, a loose white shirt and white trousers that made him look like a surgeon.