The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 26 October 2002

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The Fire Brigades Union announced a 48-hour national strike from 29 October, the first of a series of stoppages in pursuit of a 40 per cent pay rise. About 19,000 servicemen were put on alert to fill in for the firemen, with the help of 827 Green Goddess fire engines. Mr Bob Crow, the leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said that if absence of firemen meant that Underground stations would be more dangerous, his men would consider not working on strike days. Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, made a speech in Belfast in the wake of the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly, asking the Irish Republican Army for 'acts of completion'. 'We cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process,' he said. The IRA suggested in its reply that to disband was not possible. The government, in an exercise to test the waters, leaked the idea of removing 40 per cent tax relief on pension contributions from those earning more than £34,000. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals chose as its new chief executive Mrs Jackie Ballard, an anti-hunting campaigner and former Liberal-Democrat MP for Taunton. Mr James Strachan, who lives with Lady Blackstone, the arts minister, was recommended to take the post of chairman of the Audit Commission. Lady Longford, the biographer, died, aged 96. Q magazine gave its award for the best act in the world to Radiohead for the second year running. A Swaledale ram, called Brackenber Bronco, fetched £101,000 at an auction at Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria. Several earthquakes hit Manchester before lunch one day and before dawn on the next, the strongest being 3.9 on the Richter scale.

Ireland, in its second referendum on the matter, voted in favour of the Nice Treaty, part of which provides for the enlargement of the European Union by ten countries; the Irish vote was: Yes, 906,318 votes (62.89 per cent); No, 534,887 (37.11 per cent), with a valid poll of 1,441,204, a turnout of 48.45 per cent. President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov of Kalmykia, a Buddhist republic on the Caspian Sea, was forced into a second-round ballot after securing only 47.5 per cent of the vote despite a promise of a mobile telephone for every shepherd on the steppes. Mr Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, in an interview with Le Monde, said of the pact that governs the budget deficits of European Union members: 'I know very well that the Stability Pact is stupid, like all decisions that are rigid' ('stupide, comme toutes les dZcisions qui sont rigides'). President Saddam Hussein of Iraq declared an amnesty for all prisoners, both criminal and political; the effects were impossible to monitor, but thousands of Baghdadis rallied to the Abu Gharib jail west of the capital to meet released relatives. Police in Washington, DC, were baffled by a sniper who killed ten and made demands for money. A car holding 200lb of explosives rammed a bus near the town of Hadera, at the narrowest point of Israel, killing 14 and wounding 65 in a fire followed by more explosions as ammunition carried by soldiers on the bus blew up; Islamic Jihad said it was behind the bombing. Israeli troops earlier clashed with protesters in an operation to remove settlers from Havat Gilad, a hilltop outpost in the West Bank; it is one of 30 unauthorised settlements, mostly uninhabited, that the Israeli government wants removed. A committee appointed by the United Nations Security Council reported that a network of criminal interests backed by Rwandans, Ugandans and Zimbabweans are still pillaging diamonds and other resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo and indulging in 'theft, embezzlement, diversion of public funds, undervaluation of goods, smuggling, false invoicing, non-payment of taxes, kickback to public officials and bribery'. The Pope added an extra five mysteries, taken from the public life of Jesus, to the Rosary.