The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 23 October 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The United States asked for British forces to be sent from the south of Iraq around Basra to positions further north to cover for American troops required to attack Fallujah, where insurgents have been in control; the government decided to send soldiers of the Black Watch. They would come under American command but retain British rules of engagement. Abu Hamza al-Masri, the well-known hook-handed Muslim cleric, was taken to Belmarsh magistrates’ court to answer ten charges of soliciting or encouraging the murder of others, ‘namely a person or persons who did not believe in the Islamic faith’. Mr Mike Tomlinson, a former chief inspector of schools, proposed in an official report that A-levels and GCSEs should be replaced over a 10-year period by a diploma; ‘teacher-led assessment should be the predominant mode of assessment’ in place of GCSEs. But Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, said, ‘GCSEs and A-levels will stay’. The Lambeth commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, chaired by the Most Revd Dr Robert Eames, the Primate of All Ireland, recommended in the so-called Windsor report that the Episcopal Church of the USA should ‘express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached’ when it consecrated the practising homosexual Dr Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire; but the Primate of Ecusa, the Most Revd Frank Griswold, would only express ‘regret that there are places within our Communion where it is unsafe for them [homosexuals] to speak out the truth of who they are’. Sainsbury’s said it would actually make a loss, taking into account half a billion pounds wasted on a useless information technology system. The Office of National Statistics said that though spending on the National Health Service has risen since 1997, productivity has fallen. The government prepared to hurry through the Gambling Bill, allowing more casinos. These would be permitted to install one-armed bandits, which would be banned in places such as minicab offices and fish and chip shops. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea called for a ban on cod fishing in the North Sea, Irish Sea and seas off the west of Scotland in 2005 to give the creatures a chance to breed. Graham Dury, who has drawn and written ‘Fat Slags’ in Viz for 14 years, said he would stop in protest at a ‘crass and ill-conceived film’ by that name.

Spanish police arrested seven people in Madrid and southern Spain and one in Pamplona — mostly Algerian — suspected of plotting to bomb the national court. Mrs Margaret Hassan, a British-born Iraqi citizen who runs the Care International aid agency in Iraq, was abducted in Baghdad. President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus won a referendum to allow him to stand for a third term in 2006. Mr Craig Murray, who was withdrawn as Britain’s ambassador to Uzbekistan after he complained of British use of information extracted there under torture, was suspended by the Foreign Office. The world’s fourth largest gold producer, Gold Fields, was suddenly bid for by Harmony, a South African gold mining company. South Africa’s state television scrapped its ‘Great South Africans’ series after viewers voted for Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister who built up apartheid, and Eugene Terreblanche, among the top 30. Mr Alain Ménargues, the head of news at the state-owned Radio France Internationale, resigned after saying in an interview that Israel was a racist state. The Indian bandit leader, Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, aged 60, was killed in a shootout near a small village 200 miles south of Madras. Twenty-three tigers in a zoo in Thailand died of avian influenza. Peru, which consumes 65 million guinea pigs a year, began to export 1,000 head a week of a new breed for the table that weighs two and a half pounds.