The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 29 January 2005

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The government proposed that foreigners suspected of terrorism and held illegally at Belmarsh prison should be let out but somehow put under restriction. Four British citizens held in America’s prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba were flown home and arrested. Mr Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative party, said he sought a substantial reduction in immigration, which has averaged 157,000 a year under Labour; if the Tories won the election they would withdraw Britain from the 1951 UN convention on refugees. But European Union officials said that EU law prohibited Britain from setting a quota for refugees. The government revealed the wording of a referendum to be held, probably in 2006: ‘Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty establishing a constitution for the European Union?’ Mr William Hague launched an anti-slavery campaign by pointing out that there are an estimated 27 million slaves alive today, more than all the people sold from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade. Oxford University is to admit fewer British undergraduates, on whom it loses money each year, and will vigorously recruit overseas students, who pay for courses in full, according to plans by Dr John Hood, its new vice-chancellor. Violent crimes against the person in Britain rose by 7 per cent over the year before. The High Court was asked to rule if the Parliament Act 1949 was valid, since it had been invoked to ban hunting. Miss Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, said that she received ‘spiritual guidance’ from the Catholic association Opus Dei. Dame Miriam Rothschild, the naturalist whose Catalogue Rothschild Collection of Fleas ran to six volumes, died, aged 96. The Royal Mail is to issue stamps in September featuring Emmerdale, the television soap opera. The consumption of vegetables has fallen by 2 per cent since the government campaign began in 2000 to encourage their consumption. The Health Development Agency said that some hospitals had decided to prohibit smoking even in their grounds. Wetherspoons said it would ban smoking in 60 of its pubs in May. A pub team was banned for life from the Brighton United Darts league after refusing to eat sandwiches offered at a match with a team of homosexual men and women.

A tape recording purporting to come from Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, a leader of supporters of al-Qa’eda in Iraq, appeared on the Internet a week before the elections to be held on 30 January. ‘We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy,’ it said; and since candidates were ‘demi-idols’, those who voted for them would be ‘infidel’. The United States has offered a $25 million reward for al-Zarkawi’s capture or death. The Iraqi government said that it had captured Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf (Abu Omar al-Kurdi), whom it accused of 32 car bombings. Car bombings continued. Mr Owen Arthur, the Prime Minister of Barbados, announced plans to make the island a republic, with an elected president in place of the Queen as head of state. Peter Caruana, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said that European Commission plans to end tax exemption for companies incorporated there ‘represent a reasonably good arrangement’. About 200 died when thousands of Hindus stampeded on stairs to a hilltop temple in the village of Wai, 150 miles south of Bombay. Three brothers in Vietnam who contracted avian influenza, which killed one of them, had drunk duck’s blood at a family celebration, local press reported. A man was rescued from dark caves at Madiran in the Hautes-Pyrenées where he had been lost for 34 days, eating nothing but rotten wood and some earth; he lost three stone. China is to measure Mount Everest, which is thought to have shrunk by four feet, some say because of global warming.