The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 27 March 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Liberal Democrat delegates at the party’s spring conference in Southport voted in favour of 16 year olds being allowed to appear in explicit pornography and of doctors being allowed to assist suicides. Mr Charles Kennedy broke into a sweat during his speech to the conference, following his sudden absence during the budget debate the week before with a stomach disorder. Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, flew to Madrid for a requiem Mass for those killed in the train bombings. He then flew for talks with President Gaddafi of Libya. A Nottingham brain surgeon was suspended while an investigation was ordered into allegations that he had failed to pay for an extra helping of croutons for his soup in the hospital canteen. Shell cut figures for its oil and gas reserves for a second time on discovering that they had been erroneous; its annual general meeting was delayed by two months. The office of Mr John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, fiddled with planning policies to give out-of-town shopping centres a better chance of being built. Of children given classes in mathematics intended to help them make up ground lost at primary school, less than half reached the level expected at the age of 11 by the end of their first year at secondary school, according to Ofsted. Lifeboatmen had to rescue 34 people from the Thames when a rowing competition on the Boat Race course was hit by a sudden storm. A survey on behalf of the Surrey trading standards department found that 57 per cent of the county’s curry houses were using illegal levels of dye in their chicken tikka masala.

In a helicopter missile attack, Israel killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, as he was being brought home in his wheelchair from a mosque in Gaza City early in the morning. Huge crowds of Palestinians protested angrily at the assassination; seven other people were killed in the attack. Mr Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, called the assassination an ‘unlawful killing, which we condemn’. ‘It is unacceptable,’ he added, ‘unjust and very unlikely to achieve its objectives.’ In London, the Financial Times-Stock Exchange index of shares fell by 1.9 per cent in a day after the assassination; on Wall Street the Dow Jones index fell by 1.2 per cent. President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan was re-elected with a 30,000 majority out of 13 million votes. A day earlier he had been slightly wounded after being shot in the stomach in an assassination attempt; the vice-president was shot in the knee. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers went into action against positions in south Waziristan suspected of sheltering followers of al-Qa’eda. The Afghan aviation minister, Mr Mirwais Sadiq, was killed by soldiers loyal to a local commander, setting off fighting which left 100 dead. Twenty-eight people died and 3,600 Serbs were made homeless during clashes between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo after the drowning of two Albanian boys in a river. Spanish police arrested more suspects in connection with the bombing of trains in Madrid, which killed 202, bringing the number held to 14. Mr Leszek Miller, the Prime Minister of Poland, which, together with Spain, blocked agreement last December on a constitution for the European Union, appeared to have come to an arrangement with Mr Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor of Germany, to let plans be activated again while Ireland retains the presidency of the EU, which it relinquishes at the end of June. The European Commission fined Microsoft 497 million euros because of the way it was using its Windows monopoly. Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, who was Queen from 1948 to 1980, when she abdicated, died, aged 94. The roving machine on Mars, Opportunity, found sediment with ripple patterns that indicated it had been formed in salt water.