British Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped down June 27 after 10 years in office at 10 Downing Street

Goodbye, ally

News of the Year | June 2007

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 29, 2007

British Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped down June 27 after 10 years in office at 10 Downing Street and 13 years as head of Britain's Labor Party. The prime minister's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, famously told reporters, "We don't do God" during Blair's term- a period that saw Britain lose 67 citizens on 9/11; endure coordinated terror attacks on its own soil July 7, 2005; and go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq as the nearest and dearest ally of the United States.

Out of office Blair told a BBC program covering his tenure: "There is no point in me denying it, I happen to have religious conviction. I don't actually think there is anything wrong in having religious conviction-on the contrary, I think it is a strength for people." He said Christianity was "an important part of being able to do" the job as head of state but said, "You talk about it in our system and frankly people do think you're a nutter."

Blair, an Anglican said to be interested in converting to Roman Catholicism, quickly moved from one post to another that seems particularly ripe for divine intervention: On the day he stepped down, he was appointed official Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East on behalf of the UN, the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

Also in June ...

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Londoners went on high alert June 29 after officers discovered two Mercedes loaded with gas canisters and nails that failed to explode in central London. The next day, a burning car loaded with gas canisters was driven at the main terminal building at Glasgow's international airport in Scotland and caught fire. Two terror suspects were arrested at the scene, one with serious burns, and authorities quickly linked the two attempted attacks, grounding all flights at high tourist season. Six months later, investigators announced that the plotters were linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, making the attacks the first the group has been involved in outside the Middle East.

The radical Islamic group Hamas overtook Palestinian posts at the Egyptian border and stormed Gaza City. Using weapons reportedly smuggled through Egypt, Hamas fighters captured security compounds of Fatah, the governing Palestinian faction, and President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Palestinian Authority's government June 14. The takeover put in charge within Israel's borders militants committed to its destruction and allied with Iran. It also complicated Middle East peace talks renewed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that culminated in a conference at Annapolis attended by 43 nations Nov. 27.

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong couldn't leave his job soon enough for a judge who ruled on June 18 that his botched prosecution of rape charges against Duke University lacrosse players and subsequent disbarment on June 16 meant he had to go immediately. Nifong rose to prominence after bringing charges against the players accused of rape by a stripper they hired in 2006. The scandal that erupted effectively ended the team's season and cost the head coach his job. But the stripper's story fell apart while players' alibis and DNA tests checked out. Ethics charges hit then-prosecutor Nifong, whose rush to build a high-profile case unjustly damaged the team's reputation even as it led Nifong to victory in the district attorney election. One lesson remained: No good comes from hiring a stripper.

President George W. Bush vetoed on June 20 a bill that would have allowed federally funded embryonic stem-cell research. It was the second time Bush vetoed stem-cell legislation and only the third veto of his administration. The next day he issued an executive order directing federal funds to support research on alternative sources of "pluripotent" stem cells capable of developing into other kinds of cells without destroying human embryos. A New York Times editorial called on members of Congress "to summon the strength to override Mr. Bush's veto," which it claimed would "impede scientific progress."

Five months later the Times ate its shirt, and reported that "biologists were electrified" when scientists in Japan and Wisconsin reported that they could turn human skin cells into cells that behave like embryonic stem cells, able to grow indefinitely and potentially to turn into any type of tissue in the body.

The discovery of an alternative source of stem cells, the Times acknowledged, "would decisively solve the raw material problem" and "provide an unlimited supply of stem cells without the ethically controversial embryo destruction and the restrictions on federal financing that have impeded work on human embryonic cells."


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