The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 4 September 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The Royal Mail paid £50 million in compensation after meeting none of its 15 targets in the first quarter of the financial year, delivering only 88.3 per cent of first-class letters on time between April and June, against a target of 92.5 per cent; Oxford saw only 68 per cent delivered on time. By July Glasgow still had one in five first-class letters late. The Electoral Commission recommended that all-postal voting should be dropped in British elections after reports of abuse and disorganisation in the pilots in June undermined public confidence; Mr John Prescott’s all-postal referendum on regional government for the North East on 4 November would have to go ahead because it was too late to change it. Sir Bobby Robson, aged 71, was sacked after five years as manager of Newcastle United. The Fire Brigades Union called off strike plans after reaching agreement with employers about pay and bank holidays. Mr Abu Hamza al-Masri was arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 ‘on suspicion of being involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism’; he was in Belmarsh prison at the time, awaiting the resolution of an application for his extradition to the United States. Muslims and Catholics united against plans by the Scottish Executive to give sex education to primary-school and pre-school children. Only one man was shot dead during the Notting Hill Carnival. A strange unfrocked priest, Cornelius Horan, who says the Second Coming is not far off and who disrupted the British Grand Prix last year by running on to the track, pushed the leading runner in the Olympic Marathon into the crowd, making him fall back to third position; next day Mr Horan was given a 12-month suspended sentence by a Greek court. Britain came tenth in the table of Olympic medals with 30 in all. Mr George Brunstad, aged 70, became the oldest man to swim the Channel, taking 15 hours 59 minutes to get from Dover to Sangatte.

The siege by American tanks and Iraqi troops of the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf ended when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani returned from London, where he was said to have been undergoing heart surgery, and asked Shiite pilgrims to go to the mosque, which armed members of the Mahdi army, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, then vacated. More than 70 people died in firearm and mortar attacks that day. Exports of oil from Iraq were suspended for at least a week because of repeated attacks on the pipeline in the south of the country. British soldiers remained in barracks in Basra, except for sallies in armoured vehicles. Twelve kidnapped Nepalis were murdered. The French foreign minister was dispatched to the Middle East after two French reporters were kidnapped in Iraq by a group protesting about a French law prohibiting the wearing of the veil by Islamic schoolgirls. A Chechen terrorist bomb killed ten in Moscow, and Chechen gunmen took control of a school in south Russia with 200 children inside. Two buses were blown up in Beersheba, killing 16; they were the first suicide bombings in Israel in six months. In Kabul a Taleban car bomb killed at least 11 at Dyncorp Inc., which provides bodyguards for President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. Mr Sergei Abramov, the candidate preferred by Moscow, was elected President of Chechnya. More than 100,000 people marched in New York against the policies of President George Bush, whose Republican party held its national convention in the city. Lord Black of Crossharbour, the former owner of the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, ‘deliberately looted’ his company for personal gain, according to a report by a committee at Hollinger International to the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York. The number of people in the United States living in poverty (below $9,573 a year for one person, or $18,660 for a family of four) rose by 1.3 million to 35.9 million, one in eight of the population; and those without health insurance rose to 15.6 per cent, according to the Census Bureau. Taiwan said it would oblige all its householders to take out insurance against typhoons and floods.