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News Comment
a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus

On the London Stock Exchange the FTSE 100 index finished the week 76 points down at 6088.3, its lowest close since January 16th. Much of the loss was because of banks and techs, although the greatest negative influence was from Vodaphone which lost 5.4% of its value. Some analysts believe the strongest factor to have an effect on investors’ sentiment this week was data from the U.S. showing higher than expected inflation figures and undermining hopes about the level of further interest cuts. Other factors included renewed worries about earnings, underlined by serious earnings warnings from some of the top U.S. tech companies.

Investors’ nervousness was not improved by the news that British and US warplanes had mounted raids on Iraqi air defences on Friday. In the U.S. stocks fell sharply although one analyst commented "The Markets are ready to over-react to anything at the moment". UK and U.S. defence sources said the raids were a "targeted and measured response" to a "dramatic rise in attacks on coalition aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone in Iraq". The use of British aircraft in the raids had been authorised by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon earlier in the week after discussions with the Americans. Criticism was directed at Britain and America for failing to consult NATO allies before mounting the attacks, and in Baghdad it was reported that Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussain, was discussing plans for a military response. One Iraqi newspaper said "The Americans' and Britons' new, savage crime will not pass unpunished and without decisive retaliation". Further criticism came from both China and Russia, while the Arab League condemned the action as "breaking international law". Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that Britain was ready to authorise further action.

A poll by the BBC this week has revealed that Britons generally have little knowledge or, it would seem, interest, in the workings of the European Community. 70% were unable to name their own Member of the European Parliament ("MEP"), 75% could not name Britain’s two EU commissioners, and 79% had no idea who is the head of the European Commission. When interviewed, the head of the Commission himself, Romano Prodi, seemed delighted. "21% know my name," he said, "This is fantastic." He seemed less impressed that 57% of those questioned said they believed that as a nation, Britain is closer to the United States than Europe.

I hear that the star of the film "Gladiator", Russell Crowe, has announced he prefers a herd of cows to Meg Ryan. In an interview for an Australian newspaper, Mr Crowe revealed he left Meg Ryan after their six months together so that he could spend more time with the animals on his Australian cattle farm. That’s show business, I suppose.

In perhaps the most bizarre story of the week, it was reported that a ghostly monk is stalking the corridors of Brockhill Women’s Prison near Redditch, Worcestershire. Prisoners and staff alike have apparently seen the apparition or felt the effects of his presence. I understand that "spiritual guidance" has been offered to anyone who feels disturbed by the "haunting", although some of the inmates seem less than worried. One of the women allegedly commented: "Just our luck. We’ve got a man prowling the corridors, and he has to be a monk. No good to us."

18th February 2001                        


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