The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 23 November 2002

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Three men of north African origin were arrested under the Terrorism Act, and some newspapers said that a plot to spread poison gas in the London Underground had been foiled. The government denied this was so; Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, said: 'If there is a specific threat against a specific target, we of course will warn people.' The Fire Brigades Union held 'very constructive' talks with Mr John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. But Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in the Commons: 'This is exactly the wrong time, with exactly the wrong claim, pursuing the wrong methods to demand wage rises so much higher than inflation.' Miss Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, denounced the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy for giving 'every European dairy producer two dollars a day for each cow that he owns, while 2.7 billion men, women and children around the world are living on less than that'. Earlier she had said that government plans to charge top-up fees for university tuition were a 'really bad idea'. University College and Imperial College, both parts of London University, said they had decided not to merge after 'an intense period of deliberation'. Mr David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, launched a National Policing Plan. A White Paper called 'Protecting the Public' proposed that a defendant in a case of rape will have to show that he took reasonable steps to establish consent; that offences such as buggery and so-called 'cottaging' - where a man solicits another for sex - should be repealed; and that a new offence should be created of 'undertaking a course of conduct' leading to a meeting where an adult intends to engage in sexual activity with a child. Myra Hindley, who was jailed in 1966 for her part in the torture and death of three children, and later confessed to taking part in the murder of two more, died in hospital but still in custody, aged 60. Michael Hill, a Roman Catholic priest permanently suspended from his ministry, who has already served a prison sentence for sex offences, pleaded guilty to a further six charges, some dating from 1959, of indecent assault on three boys aged between 10 and 14. Equitable Life, the stricken insurer, is to cut by a fifth the income of 50,000 holders of with-profits annuity pensions.

Mr Hans Blix, the United Nations chief weapons inspector, returned to Iraq. In Yemen the British embassy at Sana'a was closed to visitors as a security precaution. A gunman killed 12 Israelis and wounded 30 after Sabbath eve prayers in Hebron in the West Bank. Abba Eban, Israel's foreign minister from 1966 to 1974, died, aged 87. Mr Giulio Andreotti, aged 83, who was seven times prime minister of Italy, was sentenced by an appeal court to 24 years in jail on charges of ordering the murder of a journalist in 1979; a lower court had acquitted him. In China the 16th party congress confirmed that the vice-president, Mr Hu Jintao, aged 59, should replace the president, Mr Jiang Zemin, aged 76, as party general secretary. A summit in Prague of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation opened with a demand from France that Nato should hand over responsibility for stabilising Macedonia to a European Union rapid-reaction force. A tanker, the Prestige, laden with 70,000 tons of oil split and sank off north-west Spain; there were fears that it might prove one of the worst such disasters. The Pope received a visit from Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, who had been cleared by an inquiry headed by a former judge of assaulting a 12-year-old boy in 1961. Michael Jackson, the singer, said he had made a 'terrible mistake' in dangling his nine-month-old son from a fifth-floor hotel balcony. Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs declared that Elizabeth of Britain was still its queen, even though the island has been a republic since 1987; she remained paramount chief with the titles Tui Viti and Vunivalu.