The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 25 October 2003

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, was taken to hospital after complaining of pain in his chest; he is thought to have been suffering from supraventricular tachycardia, an over-rapid heartbeat, or, some said, atrial fibrillation, which was adjusted with electrical treatment. After a day’s rest he flew to Northern Ireland and confirmed that elections to the Assembly there, suspended for a year, would take place on 26 November. But a breakthrough in peace negotiations collapsed when the IRA and Sinn Fein refused to let General John de Chastelain, head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, or the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland, give details of arms the IRA had put out of use; this prevented the Unionists from accepting the gesture. Earlier Mr Blair had ruled out a referendum on the European Union constitution; ‘There will not be a referendum,’ he said. ‘The reason for this is that the constitution does not fundamentally change the relationship between the UK and the EU.’ Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his wife Sarah named their new baby, born weighing 8lb 1oz, John. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, expected ‘a huge crisis’ when New Hampshire goes ahead with plans to consecrate a practising homosexual as bishop on 2 November, despite a joint statement by 38 Anglican primates meeting at Lambeth which said that ‘the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy’ by such an act. Mr Paul Burrell, the former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales, is to reproduce a letter from her in a book he has coming out; he said she had sent it to him in 1996, a year before her fatal car crash, and part of it reads: ‘–— is planning “an accident’’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for Charles to marry.’ Two Underground trains were derailed in two days: one by a broken rail on the Piccadilly line between Barons Court and Hammersmith, and the other in a tunnel south of Camden Town on the Northern line. Corporate shareholders in Carlton succeeded in having Mr Michael Green removed as chairman-designate of the merged Carlton and Granada. Mr Matt Barrett, the chief executive of Barclays, criticised unwise use of Barclaycards: ‘I do not borrow on credit cards,’ he said, ‘I have four children. I give them advice not to pile up debts on their credit cards.’

The United States said that a ‘significant threat’ had been posed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by an agreement made by Britain at a European Union summit in Brussels to co-operate with France and Germany in creating a military ‘vanguard’ with its own command structure; America called an emergency meeting of Nato. A series of attacks on American troops in Iraq brought to 104 the number killed since President George Bush declared an end to major combat on 1 May. A tape-recording purporting to come from Osama bin Laden declared Iraq the new battlefront in the jihad against America. Ten Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip — seven at Nusseirat refugee camp who were near a car that was destroyed, and two Hamas members and a bystander in four other attacks. The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany flew to Tehran in an attempt to solve the crisis over Iran’s development of nuclear capacity; it was the fifth visit to Iran in two years by Mr Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary. In a general election, the nationalist Swiss People’s party gained the largest support of any party. Alija Izetbegovic, the former President of Bosnia, died, aged 78. The Pope beatified Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died in 1997. An office block 1,667ft tall, with 101 floors, was topped out in Taipei; it is the tallest in the world, 184ft higher than the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The tobacconists of Paris went on strike in protest at a 20 per cent rise in tax on cigarettes; a packet of Marlboro now costs £4 compared with £4.75 in Britain.