The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 6 December 2003

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The Democratic Unionist party became the biggest in Northern Ireland after elections for the Assembly there, which has been suspended for more than a year; 'A democrat will not sit down with armed gangsters and murderers to negotiate the future of this country,' said the Revd Ian Paisley, the leader of the DUP. The DUP has 30 seats, the Ulster Unionists 27; Sinn Fein with 24 overtook the Social Democratic and Labour party with 18. More than half the Labour party's backbenchers at Westminster signed an early day motion questioning government plans to allow university top-up fees of '3,000 a year payable after graduation. A vote on the issue was delayed until the New Year, but Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, said there would be 'absolutely no retreat'. He added: 'Of course my authority is on the line. It always is with these votes.' Mr Blair was earlier examined by a doctor after experiencing stomach pains. Mr David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, needed ten stitches after walking into a metal staircase when his guide dog Sadie was absent; 'Tony and I have both benefited from the NHS in recent months,' he remarked. Norwich Union is to get rid of 2,350 jobs in Britain in favour of workers in India. There was a series of arrests in various places under the Terrorism Act. Fujian influenza, which struck Australia during their recent winter, was found to be spreading among British children. The Revd Joanna , curate of St Michael's, Chester, was given leave in the High Court to challenge the refusal of West Mercia Police to prosecute doctors who carried out an abortion on a woman more than 24 weeks pregnant because she did not want a baby with a cleft palate. The Earl and Countess of Wessex finally decided to call their daughter Louise. The Queen made a state visit to Nigeria where she opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. A picture of a Labour MP wearing only his underpants, which he had sent to a stranger via a homosexual website, was published by the Mail on Sunday. The Duchess of Northumberland is building a '3 million tree house of 6,000 square feet in the gardens of Alnwick Castle: 'I see it as an organic, bio-friendly fairytale experience,' she said.

American forces in Iraq said that 54 insurgents had been killed when a US convoy was ambushed at Samarra, north of Baghdad. In the days before the incident, seven Spanish intelligence officers were killed in an attack on the road from Baghdad to Hilla, and in separate incidents two Japanese diplomats, two South Korean contractors and a Colombian oil worker were killed. The United States came to an agreement to release from detention at Guantanamo Bay two men from Tipton, in the West Midlands, and repatriate seven other British detainees; dozens of the other 600 detainees there would also be released. The United States prepared to remove high tariffs on steel imports from the European Union. Syria handed over to Turkey 22 people it suspected of being connected with the bombs in Istanbul last month that killed 61 and wounded more than 700. Pakistan offered to allow Indian aeroplanes to fly over its territory once more as part of a series of rapprochements between the two countries. Britain agreed with France and Germany to allow a European defence force to be commanded from Brussels independently of Nato forces. French embassies closed when diplomats went on a one-day strike against budget cuts. Mr Algirdas Brazauskas, the Prime Minister of Lithuania, said that President Rolandas Paksas should resign after a parliamentary report suggested he had links with Russian criminals and secret service people; 'I'm as calm as a Belgian,' Mr Paksas said. Gertrude Ederle, the American who in 1926 became the first woman to swim the English Channel, died, aged 98.