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Protected: Reporting from Gaza over decades has taught me the key to understanding the conflict. Palestinians are being repressed — by their own leaders.

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Fake News Insight Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

Chief Palestinian peace advocate, Chief Palestinian propagandist or Chief Palestinian liar? Saeb Erekat is dead.

Jericho was first made famous by the Old Testament, when it describes how the Jewish leader Joshua circled around the city seven times, after which its walls collapsed.

More recently, it’s a major city in the West Bank, where mostly Arab Palestinians have had control, while Israeli forces man exits and entrances to this town in a valley well below sea level, and close to the trickle that these days is all that’s left of the River Jordan.

It’s also been the home of Saeb Erekat, often touted as a possible successor to the Palestinian Authority’s president Mahmoud Abbas. He died, aged 65, in an Israeli hospital this week, after being infected by Covid-19 while in Jericho. He had already undergone a lung transplant three years ago in the USA — and had suffered a heart attack.

I met Erekat several times, including in his Jericho home, and he always came across as a sincere but very frustrated person. His frustration stemmed from the pressures he felt from all sides. “People here in my city have warned me they want me dead,” he told me, “because they cannot see where these interminable talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority were going”.

In fact the talks went nowhere – or somewhere that many Palestinians did not like.

He was suspected, by many of his people, to be ‘soft’ on Israel, especially after notes from informal meetings between the negotiating teams of Palestinians and Israelis were leaked to Al Jazeera in 2011. He appeared willing to make concessions that contradicted the public stance of the PA leadership.

Yet he supported a Palestinian Authority decision to cut off talks with Israel several years ago – and to boycott the United States peace efforts too after it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.

In recent months he firmly rejected any moves by Arab States, especially those in the Gulf, to make peace with Israel, demanding that the Palestinian Authority had a right to veto any such deal till it got a state of its own.

Using huge amounts of British government aid money, he established a strong propaganda arm, though, for the Authority. His Department for Negotiations Affairs put out a case for Palestinian statehood – based on a strongly-contested narrative of victimhood and on misleading maps.

Even in an arena where exaggeration is a speciality, Erekat excelled.

Early in 2002 Palestinian suicide bombers had killed over 100 Israelis (mostly civilians) in 35 days of carnage in various parts of the Jewish State. The Israelis decided to root out what they considered to be terrorist cells based in various cities and villages in the West Bank, where attacks were prepared with apparent impunity.

The Israeli assault on these targets centred on the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus. On April 11, Erekat told CNN’s Bill Hemmer that, “They are burying more than 300 Palestinian in Jenin refugee camp alone.” Ensconced in Jericho, Erekat then told several Western reporters by phone – including me – that at least 500 were dead in Jenin.

Six days later he tweaked the death toll further, this time to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in a flurry of internal self-contradiction: “We have 1,600 missing men in this refugee camp. Mostly women and children, husbands and wives . . . How many people were massacred: We say the number will not be less than 500,” Erekat declared to CNN and other Western news outlets.

Very soon, even usually sober newspapers like The Times and broadcasters like the BBC were openly affirming that a massacre had taken place. The Times correspondent, who was interviewed by the BBC, compared it with the ‘massacre of Sabra and Shatila’, a genuine massacre of civilians that had occurred in Lebanon in 1982. (The killers in that event were all Christian Phalangists, but Israeli forces had control of the entrances to the two Palestinian refugee camps.)

The actual death toll in Jenin was 52 Palestinians and 23 Israelis – a United Nations report stated three months later. (See below)

Erekat’s wildly exaggerated claims had been contradicted within days, from a seemingly unlikely source. Erekat’s colleague, the governor of Jenin, Mousa Abu Mousa. This reporter filmed him looking over a list of the Palestinian dead. It contained only 50 names. The United Nations secretary-general decided to withdraw efforts for an on-the-spot inspection team to go there, but criticised Israel for being obstructive.

…….

Here, for the record, is an objective news agency account, published months later — far too late to have blunted the thrust of Erekat’s propaganda:

UN report rejects claims of Jenin massacre

AFP

Thursday 1 August 2002 16.00 BST

The Jenin incursion, which began in early April, was the heaviest fighting in Israel’s six-week campaign that began on March 29 this year. The Israeli army lost 23 soldiers in the camp and, in the weeks after the battle, the Palestinian cabinet minister, Saeb Erekat, said that 500 people had been killed.

The UN report, prepared by the secretary general, Kofi Annan, after Israel refused a fact-finding mission access to the camp, said 52 Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by April 18, and that up to half may have been civilians.

It called the Palestinian allegation “a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of evidence that has emerged”, the diplomats said.

Israel, which had repeatedly denied any massacre took place, praised the report. It had previously claimed that 22 Palestinian gunmen were killed in the fighting.

“Israel welcomes this finding, as well as the determination that the armed Palestinians deliberately took up position in a densely populated locality,” a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, Jonathan Peled, said.

The violence in the camp came during an Israeli offensive in the West Bank, launched after a suicide bomb attack that killed 29 Israelis.

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Eyewitness How It Was Done Insight Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

A decade later, a journalist recalls his chilling experience in Middle East captivity.

Film-maker and veteran broadcaster PAUL MARTIN explains.

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Latest News Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

I wrote this intriguing story for the Sunday People and for the Mirror website. But not the headline. Two words in it destroyed my carefully balanced reporting. “Isis doctor “. Was he?


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Latest News Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

A hard-left British politician faces potential criminal charges. He’s trying to win a seat again in Britain’s parliament. Why no-one would publish the scoop that shows his guilt.

.  

EXCLUSIVE

Hard-left politician George Galloway has evaded potential criminal charges – because an alleged electorial illegality took place longer ago than a six-year cut-off limit. Last evening he heavily failed to be elected to Parliament in a central-England constituency that last time voted for the Labour Party candidate.

He could also have been expelled from Parliament should he have won his campaign to return as an MP – this time for West Bromwich East, which had previously been the seat of Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson.

World News & Features (WNF) has evidence of credit card payments that indicate amounts were paid for running past election campaigns that legally had to be reported but were not.

Other allegations include …..

Each allegation, if proven, could lead to criminal prosecution and could spell the end for the radical politician’s long and controversy-filled career as a Member of Parliament and as a radical political figure. 

The most serious allegation was that Galloway borrowed over 32,000 pounds for election expenses and had still not paid back many thousands of pounds he owed from these loans. He claimed these were mainly donations – but donations or loans of this size needed to be reported to the regulators of the election or to the parliamentary oversight body.  They were not.

Another accusation, presented to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was that an employment rip-off has cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds.  These allegations have come to light in an investigation by the independent news agency, World News & Features (WNF).

Documents have emerged that he failed to report loans or gifts of more than £20,000 in election-related expenses from Ayesha Bajwa, his onetime Parliamentary aide.

Galloway, 65, is currently fighting to become an MP again – …. years after losing a bitter campaign to retain a Parliamentary seat in Bradford West.  In April 2012 he had won a by-election there under the banner of the hard-left Respect Party against Labour, which had expelled him nine years earlier.

Bajwa’s allegation had come in a court document claiming that, in the months before the 2010 General Election, he had borrowed the money.   

In a statement responding to the allegations, the MP said he was not aware whether such payments had been made or not. 

In terms of the Electoral Administration Act of 2006, all loans for the support of election campaigns must be declared to the Electoral Commission.  The Commission has told WNF it has no record of Galloway or the Respect Party having registered any such donation or loan.  

Bajwa, who was paid a salary by the taxpayer as his Parliamentary Assistant from 2007 until he lost an east London seat in 2010, provided a list, in her High Court papers, of what she says were payments she made to Galloway for his election campaigning. She also supplied another list of what she says are refunds made to her. They appear to indicate that much of the money has not been repaid. 

From March 2007 to May 2010 she says payments she made for his election campaigns and activities, including hiring campaign buses and printing election material, amounted to £32,391.44. [She also maintains that, when she said she was running out of funds for further loans to him, Galloway asked her to borrow money – and that in 2011 she took out a £25,000 loan from Lloyds TSB Bank to pay Galloway’s VAT and tax liabilities.]

In total Bajwa claimed that Galloway still owed her over 120,000 pounds in money she had loaned him for various purposes between 2007 and 2012.  In court papers obtained by WNF with permission of the High Court, Galloway states that Bajwa was having an “intimate” relationship with him – kept secret, he states, partly because he was already officially married to another woman.  The bulk of the money provided by Bajwa to him was not a series of loans, he asserts, but was meant as a gift or was for household expenses.

Bajwa denied there was an intimate relationship.  Despite having at first vigorously denied the claims, Galloway eventually settled the matter out of court for an undisclosed sum.

However the court papers reveal Galloway admitted borrowing £49,914 to help pay for a London home he was buying.  In a Defence statement, he agreed to pay that sum back to Bajwa by bank transfer in June 2014 – more than four-and-a-half years after the loan was made. In the court papers Galloway maintained he had been under no obligation to pay it back until the house was sold.

**************************

The Parliamentary aide who succeeded her, Aisha Ali-Khan, 34, had also, separately, claimed she was owed money for items she purchased on Galloway’s behalf – like a £600 iPad for her use as his Parliamentary Assistant, and 474 pounds for hiring a registrar to officiate at Galloway’s marriage ceremony.

An attempt by Galloway to destroy her reputation was rejected by the High Court, which awarded damages to Ms Ali Khan for libel last year.

Galloway, aged 61, has consistently engendered controversy during a political career that has spanned for more than a quarter of a century.  Besides courting Saddam Hussein, he has been thrown out of the Labour Party, suspended from parliament, and famously branded a laughing stock for pretending to be a milk-licking cat on Big Brother. 

However, this did not appear to hamper his political career. And, far overshadowing his £67,000 annual Parliamentary income, his notoriety helped him make a declared income exceeding 250,000 pounds a year from lucrative contracts to present television and radio programmes – the two main income-sources being paid by companies owned by or associated with Iran or its militant affiliates (Press TV and Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV).  [Iran has for years been under trade sanctions imposed by Britain, the EU and the United Nations over its nuclear programme.]

After losing the Bethnal Green and Bow seat he was contesting in the 2010 general election, [he had been MP for a different seat ] he bounced back two years later with a shock landslide by-election victory in the formerly safe Labour seat of Bradford West, which he then lost heavily to Labour in 2015.

************************************ 

In other blows to the beleaguered Galloway:

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority announced in 2015 that it was investigating allegedly illegal overpayments that Galloway was claiming for her Parliamentary salary – for which the taxpayer was to pay her 30,000 pounds a year. His total wage bill in 2012 and in the years preceding it exceeded £100,000 annually.  His use of parliamentary funds was then referred to the police by the parliamentary expenses watchdog, following a complaint by his former assistant Aisha Ali-Khan.

She had lodged an official complaint alleging that while she worked for Mr Galloway she was made to spend a large amount of time on non-parliamentary duties.  That  included underwear shopping, making preparations for his wedding and helping the Viva Palestina charity.

Ms Ali-Khan’s lawyers claimed that Galloway had an obligation to use parliamentary funds to pay staff exclusively for associated functions and activities. The directors of the charity founded by Galloway – Viva Palestina – were suspended when they failed to make any financial returns. 

AND HERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO WRITE THIS STORY:

EXCLUSIVE

Hard-left politician George Galloway faces potential criminal charges whether he wins or loses his campaign this week after documents emerged that he failed to report loans or gifts of more than £20,000 in election-related expenses from Ayesha Bajwa, his onetime Parliamentary aide.

He could also be expelled from parliament should he win.

World News & Features (WNF) has evidence of credit card payments that appear to indicate amounts were paid for running past election campaigns that legally had to be reported but were not.

Each allegation, if proven, could lead to criminal prosecution and could spell the end for the radical politician’s long and controversy-filled career as a Member of Parliament and as a radical political figure. 

The most serious allegation was that Galloway borrowed over 32,000 pounds for election expenses and had still not paid back many thousands of pounds he owed from these loans. He claimed these were mainly donations – but donations or loans of this size needed to be reported to the regulators of the election or to the parliamentary oversight body.  They were not.

Receipts show that Ensign Bus Company, based in Essex, hired out buses and drivers to ‘The George Galloway Election Fund’ and was paid £10,800 by his former secretary and alleged lover Ayesha Bajwa in 2010 using her credit card [whose payment slips we have seen].  A leaflet distribution company in 2010 received £7,212.15 for “George Galloway MP” through a private credit card. [We have its number – it is irrelevant whose card it was, in that it was not declared anyway.]

Under the strict rules of the Electoral Commission, set up by Parliament, all loans or donations made in the same calendar year must be reported if their combined value exceeds £7,500.  Loans or donations made to Members of Parliament must be reported if they exceed £1,500.

 While not denying the allegations, Galloway has made a written statement saying he had not seen any “corroborating documentation” to prove that Bajwa had made the election payments. He said: “If they were made then it seems likely that expenditures were made on behalf of the Respect Party and would count as a donation to the party. However if Ms Bajwa did not inform the party of them then any failure to report them must lie with her and not with either me or the Respect party.”

However, the electoral rules contradict this.  They state that it is the political party’s legal duty to register any donations or loans, not the person making the donation or loan. Galloway was often pictured on the buses for which Bajwa says she paid, and was heavily featured in the leaflets.

Another accusation, presented to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was that an employment rip-off has cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds.  These allegations have come to light in an investigation by the independent news agency, World News & Features (WNF).

Galloway, 65, is currently fighting to become an MP again- two years after losing a bitter campaign to retain a Parliamentary seat in Bradford West.  In April 2012 he had won a by-election there under the banner of the hard-left Respect Party against Labour, which had expelled him nine years earlier.

Bajwa’s allegation had come in a court document claiming that, in the months before the 2010 General Election, he had borrowed the money.   

In a statement responding to the allegations, the MP said he was not aware whether such payments had been made or not. 

In terms of the Electoral Administration Act of 2006, all loans for the support of election campaigns must be declared to the Electoral Commission.  The Commission has told WNF it has no record of Galloway or the Respect Party having registered any such donation or loan.  

Bajwa, who was paid a salary by the taxpayer as his Parliamentary Assistant from 2007 until he lost an east London seat in 2010, provided a list, in her High Court papers, of what she says were payments she made to Galloway for his election campaigning. She also supplied another list of what she says are refunds made to her. They appear to indicate that much of the money has not been repaid. 

From March 2007 to May 2010 she says payments she made for his election campaigns and activities, including hiring campaign buses and printing election material, amounted to £32,391.44. [She also maintains that, when she said she was running out of funds for further loans to him, Galloway asked her to borrow money – and that in 2011 she took out a £25,000 loan from Lloyds TSB Bank to pay Galloway’s VAT and tax liabilities.]

WNF has managed to track down two of those loans. The receipts show that Ensign Bus Company, based in Essex, hired out buses and drivers to ‘The George Galloway Election Fund’ and was paid £10,800 by Bajwa in 2010 using her credit card

[whose payment slips we have seen]

.  A leaflet distribution company in 2010 received £7,212.15 for “George Galloway MP” through a private credit card. [NOTE: We. have its number – it is irrelevant whose it was, in that it was not declared anyway.]

Under the strict rules of the Electoral Commission, set up by Parliament, all loans or donations made in the same calendar year must be reported if their combined value exceeds £7,500.  Loans or donations made to Members of Parliament must be reported if they exceed £1,500.

 While not denying the allegations, Galloway has made a written statement saying he had not seen any “corroborating documentation” to prove that Bajwa had made the election payments. He said: “If they were made then it seems likely that expenditures were made on behalf of the Respect Party and would count as a donation to the party. However if Ms Bajwa did not inform the party of them then any failure to report them must lie with her and not with either me or the Respect party.”

However, the electoral rules contradict this.  They state that it is the political party’s legal duty to register any donations or loans, not the person making the donation or loan. Galloway was often pictured on the buses for which Bajwa says she paid, and was heavily featured in the leaflets.

In total Bajwa claimed that Galloway still owed her over 120,000 pounds in money she had loaned him for various purposes between 2007 and 2012.  In court papers obtained by WNF with permission of the High Court, Galloway states that Bajwa was having an “intimate” relationship with him – kept secret, he states, partly because he was already officially married to another woman.  The bulk of the money provided by Bajwa to him was not a series of loans, he asserts, but was meant as a gift or was for household expenses.

Bajwa denied there was an intimate relationship.  Despite having at first vigorously denied the claims, Galloway eventually settled the matter out of court for an undisclosed sum.

However the court papers reveal Galloway admitted borrowing £49,914 to help pay for a London home he was buying.  In a Defence statement, he agreed to pay that sum back to Bajwa by bank transfer in June 2014 – more than four-and-a-half years after the loan was made. In the court papers Galloway maintained he had been under no obligation to pay it back until the house was sold.

**************************

The Parliamentary aide who succeeded her, Aisha Ali-Khan, now 36, had also, separately, claimed she was owed money for items she purchased on Galloway’s behalf – like a £600 iPad for her use as his Parliamentary Assistant, and 474 pounds for hiring a registrar to officiate at Galloway’s marriage ceremony.

An attempt by Galloway to destroy her reputation was rejected by the High Court, which awarded damages to Ms Ali Khan for libel in 2017.

Galloway has consistently engendered controversy during a political career that has spanned for more than a quarter of a century.  Besides courting Saddam Hussein, he has been thrown out of the Labour Party, suspended from parliament, and famously branded a laughing stock for pretending to be a milk-licking cat on Big Brother. 

However, this did not appear to hamper his political career. And, far overshadowing his £67,000 annual Parliamentary income, his notoriety helped him make a declared income exceeding 250,000 pounds a year from lucrative contracts to present television and radio programmes – the two main income-sources being paid by companies owned by or associated with Iran or its militant affiliates (Press TV and Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV).  [Iran has for years been under trade sanctions imposed by Britain, the EU and the United Nations over its nuclear programme.]

After losing the Bethnal Green and Bow seat he was contesting in the 2010 general election, [he had been MP for a different seat ] he bounced back two years later with a shock landslide by-election victory in the formerly safe Labour seat of Bradford West, which he then lost heavily to Labour in 2015.

************************************ 

In other blows to the beleaguered Galloway:

  • The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority announced in 2015 that it was investigating allegedly illegal overpayments that Galloway was claiming for her Parliamentary salary – for which the taxpayer was to pay her 30,000 pounds a year. His total wage bill in 2012 and in the years preceding it exceeded £100,000 annually.  It subsequently announced the investigation had been handed over to the police.
  • The directors of the charity founded by Galloway – Viva Palestina – were suspended when they failed to make any financial returns.  The charity remains in limbo.

George Galloway
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Analysis Fake News Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

False assumptions behind who’s to blame for the failed Palestinian Israeli ‘peace process’

(Left to right): Arafat, Mubarak, Rabin and Peres

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Insight Latest News Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

BBC apologises for promoting racist Imam

By Paul Martin


Abdullah Patel, who was invited to question candidates on the Tory leadership debate last night, has been suspended from his post as deputy headmaster of a primary school in Gloucester
Abdullah Patel, who was invited to question candidates on the Tory leadership debate last night, has been suspended from his post as deputy headmaster of a primary school in Gloucester

The BBC today admitted it should not have chosen an anti-Jewish Muslim religious figure to provide a pre-determined question to a nationally televised panel of the five contenders for the Conservative Party leadership.

The all-boys primary school where the imam was deputy headmaster has also suspended him from duties pending an investigation.

In tweets imam Patel had written: “Every Political figure on the Zionist’s payroll is scaring the world about [the Labour Party’s hard-left leader Jeremy] Corbyn. They don’t like him. He seems best suited to tackle them!”

Mr Patel also wrote: “How long are the Zionists going to hide behind the Holocaust cry? It was a tragedy, but Gaza today is a repeat of the oppression.”

He also shared an image endorsing the relocation of Israel to the US as a way of solving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Mr Patel, the deputy headmaster of a primary school in Gloucester, also suggested that women should not be alone with men. “Let’s also make something clear,” he wrote. “Generally, men are the predators, but women need to realise this and be smarter. It takes 2 to tango, and if you put yourself in that position, don’t expect every man to pass up the opportunity to take advantage of you. Don’t be alone with a man.”

This morning Mr Patel was suspended from his teaching post. In a statement, Yakub Patel, the chairman of the Al-Madani Educational Trust, said: “Following some of the comments attributed to Mr Patel in the media this morning, the Trust has decided to suspend him from all school duties with immediate effect until a full investigation is carried out. The ‘school’ and ‘Trust’ do not share the views attributed to him.”

The BBC said it was not aware of Mr Patel’s social media comments because he had briefly deleted his Twitter account.

A spokesman said: “We carried out background research into the online and social media profiles of all our questioners for last night’s debate. Following the debate, one individual reactivated a public twitter account he had previously deactivated, whose tweets were not visible during our research period.

“Had we been aware of the views he expressed there he would not have been selected.”

But the broadcaster was quickly embroiled in a fresh row after it emerged that another questioner used to work for the Labour Party. Aman Thakar, who asked the candidates whether they would call a general election, is a lawyer who was last year seconded to the party investigating antisemitism, and a former council candidate.

A spokeswoman for the BBC told The Times that they had known about Mr Thakar’s past work for Labour.

James Cleverly, the Brexit minister who is backing Boris Johnson, said: “I love and value the BBC, but stuff like this makes it really hard to defend you from critics. Didn’t you think it relevant to inform viewers that Aman had been Labour Party staff? Other questioners said their political affiliations.”

Michael Fabricant, who is supporting Michael Gove, added: “This is appalling. The BBC should apologise.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Gloucestershire this morning, Mr Patel said he had a very good relationship with the Jewish community.

“The criticism was not of the Jewish community because if you go through my tweets, you’d see support for the Jewish community,” he said.

“They’re our brothers and sisters, and the Jewish community and I — especially in Gloucester — work very closely together. We actually visited a synagogue just a while ago.”

However, he said he stood by any criticism of “Israel’s policy”.

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Analysis Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

Why Middle East dictators delude themselves, their people and the West – according to long-time Beirut-based foreign correspondent

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Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

We published the last dictated message of double murderer Scott Dozier in the Mirror. Then hours later the Sun newspaper plagiarised it.

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Eyewitness Media Blunders or Media Brilliance

After a very strange Soviet coup, I get a lesson — from the British prime minister

Description: cid:image001.jpg@01C99E48.A34B8840

“It’s been announced in Moscow that President Mikhail Gorbachev has become ill,” said the radio on the hotel reception desk. 

I immediately realised this was some sort of Soviet-speak for saying the Soviet leader was either already dead or was being removed – in a coup.  

For a journalist and foreign correspondent, being in the right place at the right time can be achieved by planning, by luck or by instinct.  I had just failed in all three. 

Only days before I had been in Russia, making a film about Boris Yeltsin, the recently elected leader of the Russian Federation, which was the major part of the Soviet Union, run by Gorbachev.  Now, my wife and daughters and I were on holiday in the Middle East.  There was a scheduled flight to Moscow that evening – but my wife said if I took it and ruined our vacation, it would be the last holiday we would ever spend together.  I got the message.  I consoled myself with the thought that, in any case, the first thing that gets closed during a coup is going to be the airport … so I’ll probably get forced back on the plane and never get into the city.  We flew back to London together two days later, and, as the Soviet coup was collapsing, I finally got a flight to Moscow.  As I arrived in the so-called Byeli Dom – the White House that was the headquarters of the Russian Federation, the editor of Yeltsin’s in-house newspaper hugged me. “Why did you not come when the coup began?” he asked. He told me if I had flown in to Moscow, the pro-Yeltsin faction had their own people at the airport and were getting their friends in.  “You could have spent the entire coup here with us in the White House, reporting live alongside Boris.”  Thanks I said, now feeling ten times worse. It had been surrounded by tanks during the three days of the coup, and special forces were assigned by the coup leaders to attack it.  Yelsin and his followers were trapped inside, making what might have been their last stand.  A supporter of Yelstin’s defiance  had managed to smuggle in some gas masks, which he’d stolen from the factory that made them.  They lay all over the floor of a store-room.  “Take a few.  Souvenirs,” said the newspaper editor. “We don’t need them any more.”  Two days later British prime minister John Major became the first foreign leader to visit after the failed coup.  Via the British embassy I sent him, and his foreign minister John Hurd, a souvenir gas-mask each.  I had a cunning plan in mind.  The next day Major spoke at a press conference.  I slipped out and stood at a back door that I expected him to leave by.  He did. 

He was about to get in to one of those long Soviet-made black cars with tinted windows – they usually carried Soviet officials, Members of the Politburo.  With their sardonic sense of humour, locals called these vehicles Member Carriers – the word Member having the same double meaning, referring to a part of the male anatomy, as it does in English.

 “Mr Major,” I called as I rushed towards him. “I’m the journalist who sent you a gas-mask from the White House.  Can I have an interview now?” “Aha,” he said to me. “Bribery and corruption, hey?”  “ Absolutely, Prime Minister,” I said.  “Okay, he said, “but just two questions.”  He stopped in his tracks, and restrained the security detail around him.   After two questions about the coup, I asked him the most important one: Did he think Yelsin was the right man to lead the collapsing Soviet Union out of the crisis?”  Mr Major smiled.  “Mr Martin, before I was prime minister I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, [the British finance minister].  And when I was there, they taught me to count.  That was not two questions, that was three!  Good-bye.”   

So I never found out if the British prime minister wanted Yeltsin to take over from Gorbachev. 

But he did anyway.  Gorbachev had been brought back from his dacha on the Black Sea where he’d been temporarily held prisoner… but to a new reality. I will never forget the look of shock on Gorbachev’s face when, to a packed audience of Communist party officials, Yeltsin announced: “The Communist Party is banned.”  Yeltsin was staging his own post-coup coup.  I also watched with amazement as the statue of the founder of the secret service, the KGB, was demolished outside its forbidding headquarters, the huge grey Lubyanka.  

OPTIONAL DROP OF 253 WORDS: [The new KGB chief later showed me around inside the still perfectly preserved office of Andropov, the only KGB chief who had become secretary-general of the Communist Party and therefore the official Soviet Chief.  I asked the new KGB boss if he could pout me in touch with Yuri – who had been expelled from Britain a few years before.  I’d met him on a bus, and when I heard his Russian accent, had started a conversation.  He told me he lived in the Soviet Trade Mission, just up the hill from my home.  I had invited him to visit us, not for a moment thinking he would.  The Soviets had strict instructions in those days not to mix with us locals. To my amazement he had phoned two days later, and he and his wife and daughter, dressed in western-style jeans, had come for tea.  We’d spent several good hours together a few times – I even took him to a cricket match.  Then the KGB chief defected to Britain – and revealed the names of 104 KGB agents.  Yuri was on the list.  I write an article in the New Statesman, headlined: “My friend the Soviet Spy”.  All of them were expelled, but Yuri, as his coach left for the airport, called from the window: “I read your article in the New Statesman.  I liked it.  Hope we meet again.” The new KGB chief listened to my story about Yuri, then stared straight at me: “We have no knowledge of any such individual.”]

History was in the making, but I had failed to be there during the coup, when it really mattered.  History simply had proceeded, quite successfully, without me.