The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 31 May 2003

A speedy round-up of the week's news †

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Mr Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Wales, who is the government's representative to the convention that has published a draft constitution for the European Union, said, 'If people don't like what they get, they can vote against the government in the European elections next year' (on 10 June). But the government shied away from Mr Hain's remarks, lest they seemed an endorsement of a popular right to ratify the constitution. The opposition called for a referendum. The constitution provides for direct election of a president and foreign minister for the European Union, and takes central control of economic policy, employment, foreign affairs, defence, trade, agriculture, fisheries, transport, energy, immigration and social policy; it would also create the post of European public prosecutor. Major Re Biastre, a US army reservist, high-school counsellor and part-time traffic policeman, admitted that he had witnessed none of the acts of which in a sworn statement he had accused Colonel Tim Collins, commander of the first battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, such as hitting an Iraqi with his pistol and shooting a lorry's tyres to stop looters. An atheist Iranian Kurdish refugee in Sneinton, Nottingham, sewed up his eyes, mouth and ears and went on hunger strike in protest against a Home Office application for judicial review of his grant of asylum in Britain. Rachel Kempson, Lady Redgrave, the actress, died, aged 92. Britain's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, 'Cry Baby', sung out of tune by a duet called Jemini, got absolutely no points; the winner was Turkey with a song sung in English by attractive girls. A bull was shot by a policeman after it escaped from an auction in Lancaster and rampaged around neighbouring antique stalls breaking goods including some china.

The Israeli cabinet narrowly gave acceptance to the American 'road-map' for the creation of a Palestinian state. Mr Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, had some difficulty persuading right-wing members of his governing coalition to support the plan. Mr Sharon was due to meet Mr Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Prime Minister, and President George Bush was then expected to meet them both next week. The United Nations Security Council recognised the United States and Britain as the occupying powers in Iraq and lifted trade sanctions against it. In Algeria an earthquake of 6.8 on the Richter scale left more than 2,200 dead, and 9,000 injured. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to cut short a tour of Boumerdes, badly damaged by the earthquake, under a hail of debris thrown by bystanders protesting about shoddy building standards and government sluggishness in coping with the disaster; by contrast, Islamist organisations proscribed by the government have organised relief locally with alacrity. In northern Japan an earthquake of seven on the Richter scale damaged buildings in Sendai, a city of a million, and left 104 with minor injuries but killed no one. A Ukrainian aeroplane crashed near Trabzon (Trebizond) in Turkey killing 62 Spanish soldiers, mostly peacekeepers returning from Afghanistan, and 13 crew. In Spanish municipal elections, the Popular party, which had expected to be routed for its support of the war against Iraq, gained 7.77 million votes (securing 23,286 town council seats) against the Socialists' 7.97 million (with 22,915 seats). Dr Peter Hollingworth, the former Anglican archbishop of Brisbane, resigned as governor-general of Australia even though a court dismissed claims that 40 years ago he had raped a woman who is now dead; he had also been criticised for having allowed a clergyman who had admitted sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl to continue in his ministry. Bob Hope celebrated his 100th birthday.