Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week

31 August 2013

9:00 AM

31 August 2013

9:00 AM

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Parliament was recalled four days early to debate military action against Syria, which David Cameron, the Prime Minister, had been planning in concert with President Barack Obama of the United States. It came in response to the killing with chemical weapons of hundreds on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August. Mr Cameron said that the chance of the opponents of the Syrian regime having used the weapons was ‘vanishingly small’. ‘What we’re not considering is regime change,’ he said, and added that action would have to be ‘proportionate, have to be legal, would have to specifically be about deterring the use of chemical weapons’. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said: ‘If we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent.’ Although acts of war are initiated by the executive under the royal prerogative, Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, stressed the need for Parliament to be consulted.

Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the cost of the proposed HS2 railway would drain investment from other lines. Britain’s growth in gross domestic product from the first to the second quarter was revised by the Office for National Statistics from 0.6 per cent to 0.7 per cent. Burnley was named the most enterprising area of the United Kingdom by the Department for Business. Despite a ban on ringing the speaking clock, Ministry of Defence staff spent £18,804 of its money last year dialling 123 to check the time.


A pilot cull of badgers, intended to try to stop the spread of tuberculosis in English cattle, began in Somerset and Gloucestershire. A police firearms training centre being built for Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire police was destroyed by fire. A Super Puma helicopter en route from the Borgsten Dolphin oil rig to Sumburgh airport in Shetland crash-landed in the North Sea, killing four of the 18 aboard. The final Ashes Test ended in a draw when bad light stopped play, giving England a 3-0 victory over Australia in the series. England apologised for some of its players urinating on the Oval turf after the match. ‘We got carried away,’ they said.

Abroad

Details of the chemical attack on the eastern and south-western suburbs of Damascus remained unknown. Médecins Sans Frontières said that 3,600 patients with neurotoxic symptoms were treated at three hospitals with which it had contact, and that at least 355 of them died. UN chemical weapons inspectors were allowed by the Syrian government to visit the sites only five days after the incidents. The inspectors came under sniper fire as they tried to visit an area west of Damascus on their first day. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was ‘undeniable’ and a ‘moral obscenity’. Russia said that any action taken outside the UN Security Council could have ‘catastrophic consequences’. President François Hollande said: ‘France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people.’

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, the former president, appeared in court after being released from prison and placed under house arrest. On the same day, the trial of Mohamed Badie, the ‘General Guide’ of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and his two deputies was adjourned until 29 October. In Lebanon, two bomb attacks, the deadliest since the end of the civil war in 1990, killed at least 42 and wounded more than 400 near mosques in Tripoli. In Iraq a wave of bomb attacks killed at least 46 people in one day; three days later, another wave of bombs killed at least 44. More than 4,000 have been killed in Iraq this year.

In China, Bo Xilai denied charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power during a trial that lasted several days. China said it had suffered its worst ever cyber attack. America’s Nasdaq exchange was frozen for three hours through a computer malfunction. In California 3,680 firemen fought a wild fire that covered 250 square miles in and around the Yosemite national park. Bradley Manning, the American soldier sentenced to 35 years for publishing secrets, announced that he was now a woman called Chelsea Manning. Miley Cyrus, the former child star, was criticised by the Parents Television Council for performing a lewd dance or ‘twerking’ with the singer Robin Thicke on an MTV awards programme. The culture ministry of Sri Lanka condemned the wedding of nine pairs of police dogs as offensive to Buddhist traditions. In Kyrgyzstan, a 15-year-old herder died of bubonic plague.   -CSH

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