Osama Bin Laden killed by US forces

Al-Qaeda leader killed after a “firefight” in Pakistan, Barack Obama announces.

Just a few months before the tenth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks, Osama Bin Laden has been killed by US forces. In his statement to the nation (at 11.30pm Eastern Time), Barack Obama said the al-Qaeda leader was killed last night in a "targeted operation" in Abbottabad, north-east of Islamabad.

It's a dramatic boost for Obama's presidency and will likely increase his chances of re-election in 2012. During the 2008 election campaign, he memorably declared: "We will kill Osama Bin Laden." He has now done so.

Since the news of Bin Laden's death, crowds have gathered outside the White House and in Times Square, singing "The Star Spangled Banner" and waving American flags. Obama's demagogic opponents, who forced him to produce his birth certificate last week, look irrelevant on a day like today.

But what Bin Laden's death does not mean is "the end of al-Qaeda", or anything like it. The organisation was not dependent on Bin Laden, who had long been its symbolic rather than active head. His death may yet mark a turning point for US foreign policy, but Bin Laden's followers, who have now acquired a martyr, are likely to seek revenge.

In the meantime, attention is likely to focus on Pakistan. That Bin Laden was found in a secure mansion, within a mile of the military academy known as "Pakistan's Sandhurst", will raise more questions over the relationship between that country's security forces and al-Qaeda.

UPDATE: Bin Laden sleeps with the fishes. A US official has confirmed that the al-Qaeda leader was buried at sea, presumably to avoid his grave becoming a shrine for sympathisers. The US reportedly offered to send the body to Saudi Arabia, his country of birth, but the Saudis refused to take it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.