0
By Monitor l BRITAIN'S Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, presented his tenth and probably his last Budget. His main theme was further investment in education but his critics pointed out that he did not mention the National Health Service which is going into debt and shedding jobs at an alarming rate despite huge investment. The general view was that Mr Brown strengthened his claim to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister. Controversy over undisclosed loans to the Labour Party continued to dog Mr Blair although he fought back by pointing out that Labour had named its donors while the Conservatives continued to keep theirs secret. In Iraq, British and American forces freed three hostages held in Baghdad since November. There was widespread praise for the skill of the servicemen but questions were asked about why the Briton, 70-year-old Norman Kember, had been in Iraq with a Christian peace-group in the first place. Although there was no progress in the creation of an Iraqi government of national unity President Bush expressed his confidence that his policy will lead to a democratic country in due course; however, he hinted that the decision on the timing of the withdrawal of US troops might have to be taken by his successor. In Spain, the Basque separatist group ETA announced a “permanent ceasefire”, after a 40-year campaign of violence in which 800 people have died, saying it would seek to achieve its objectives by peaceful means. Prime Minister Zapatero gave a cautious welcome to the statement but said that negotiations would be protracted. In France street protests continued against a new job contract that would enable employers to dismiss young workers without explanation during their first two years of employment. President Chirac walked out of an EU meeting in Brussels when a French official said he would speak in English because it is the “language of business”. Body Shop International was bought by L'Oreal for 625 million pounds; but Anita Roddick, who founded Body Shop to sell natural cosmetics, was criticised for selling to a firm specialising in fashion cosmetics such as Lancome. British Airports rejected a provisional 8.75 billion pounds takeover offer from Grupo Ferrovial but regulators gave the Spanish company until April 24 to make a firm offer. The FTSE index closed above 6'000 for the first time in five years.