Syria – the Arab uprising that won’t die down
While 2011 saw several long-standing Arab regimes forced from power, in Syria President Bashar al-Assad looks set to continue his resistance against those wanting to oust him into 2013. In January 2012 as violent anti-government demonstrations raged in Homs, a French journalist, Gilles Jacquier, was amongst those killed. Arab League monitors tried in vain to oversee a peace plan but to many observers their efforts were destined to remain futile. Assad’s violent reaction to the demonstrations drew international condemnation, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accusing him of “chilling cynicism”. It is estimated that around 40,000 Syrians have been killed in the uprising since street protests began in March 2011.
Europe’s Big Freeze leaves 400 dead
Temperatures plummeted across Europe during February resulting in the deaths of around 400 people. In the east of the continent in Romania, the Black Sea froze as the thermometer plunged to -32 degrees Celsius, while there was even rare snowfall on Corsica in the Mediterranean. Countries including Italy, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Poland imposed emergency measures as questions were asked about whether gas supplies were sufficient to see out the big freeze. Many of the dead were homeless people in Ukraine and Poland.
Greek Anti-Austerity Demos
One of the constant themes of the 2012 news year was the economic crisis gripping Europe and the rest of the world. In February, as Greece's unemployment rate topped 21 % and over a million people found themselves out of work, the Greek government announced tough austerity measures including a public sector pay freeze and fuel duty increases. In response, the country was hit by a series of general strikes and anti-austerity protests which resulted in violent clashes with police.
Putin is back
In March Vladimir Putin was elected as Russian president for a third term, sparking protests in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities across the country. After two consecutive terms of office that began in 2000, Putin was constitutionally required to stand down. But many observers believe his successor Dmitri Medvedev was always intended simply to keep the presidential seat warm in anticipation of Putin’s return. Demonstrators accused the government of electoral irregularities but the police response was robust; tube stations were closed and hundreds of demonstrators were arrested.
Toulouse shootings stun pre-election France
Also in March, 23-year-old Mohamed Merah was shot dead by police after a siege at his home. He had filmed himself killing seven people in a series of attacks in and around Toulouse, in southern France. The victims were three soldiers, a teacher and three pupils from a Jewish school. Merah claimed to be “avenging Palestinian children” but after his death, no proof that he belonged to any terrorist association was found. The drama gripped France, which was in full election campaign mode and presidential candidates had to tread a thin line reacting to the drama without being seen to make electoral capital out of it.
Aung San Suu Kyi wins landmark Myanmar election
In April pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party won by-elections in Myanmar by a wide margin, marking what may prove to be a pivotal moment in Suu Kyi’s two-decade-long struggle for democracy in the army-led state. The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader said she hoped the victory would be the start of a new era of democracy and freedom. But the parliament remains under the control of the military. Having spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest, Ms Suu Kyi has promised to push for further reform and warns there is much work left to do. The US and the EU have relaxed sanctions on Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and its ruling junta, as reward for the decision to hold open elections.
Hollande brings joy to French socialists
Francois Hollande was elected president of France in May, ousting the incumbent centre-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy. It ended the French Socialist Party’s 17-year wait for one of their own in the Elysée Palace. Hollande took office promising to tackle the economic crisis with a programme of growth rather than austerity and tax hikes for the rich rather than benefit cuts or wage freezes. Since the election however his approval rating has dropped from 61% to 36%, the French press dubbing him an “apprentice”.
Elections in post-revolution Egypt
June saw Egypt’s first democratic presidential elections 16 months after the revolution that toppled the Mubarak regime in February 2011. The winner, with 51% of the vote, was the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi, who called for national unity and vowed to be a president for all Egyptians. The victory was greeted with jubilation by the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square but with less joy by Israel and the US who fear any possible rise of radical Islam in the region. Mursi’s first six months in power have been highly controversial: violent protests have been held since November in Cairo, with demonstrators accusing him of trying to assume too much power and of ‘stealing’ the revolution.
Spain re-crowned Kings of European football
The UEFA European Football Championship was held in Ukraine and Poland in June and July and was won by Spain. The win made them the first team ever to win three successive international tournaments. Delighted crowds in Madrid greeted their team with a parade in an open-topped bus and a rally with music and entertainments. Commentators said the win proved that Spain had shaken off their “boring team” tag for once and for all.
All eyes on London for the Olympics
The Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in London during July and August, attracting huge crowds and largely positive international reviews. Usain Bolt earned himself the title of the “fastest man on the planet” and the opening ceremony, designed and staged by Danny Boyle, got rave reviews and subsequently won a theatre award from daily newspaper, the Evening Standard.
CERN finds the “God particle”
Scientists in Geneva working on the Cern Hadron Collider project announced that they had found the so-called ‘God particle’, the Higgs Boson. This particle is said to be the foundation stone of all matter. The collider is a ring shaped tunnel under the Franco/Swiss border in which researchers can smash protons together to recreate the conditions immediately after the Big Bang, when it is thought that the universe came into being.
Pussy Riot sentenced in Russia
Three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot were found guilty of hooliganism and received two-year jail sentences in August. The convictions related to an anti-Vladimir Putin protest performance in a Moscow cathedral and were internationally condemned by politicians, the media and Amnesty International. One of the band members was subsequently released, but the other two remain in prison.
Mass murderer Breivik sentenced in Norway
Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in a high security prison unit, having been found guilty of the murders of 77 people in two attacks last year. He claimed the atrocities were necessary to prevent the “Islamisation” of the country and said he would not appeal his sentence, which could be extended at a later date if he is judged too dangerous to be released. Breivik has subsequently complained about his conditions in jail.
NASA lands a Rover on Mars
After an eight-and-a-half-month voyage towards Mars, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, helped by other international agencies, successfully land the Curiosity Rover on the Red Planet. The procedure was fraught with risk: the Rover, whose mission it is to collect data that may determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, had been parachuted down from around 11 kilometres above the planets’ surface. With fewer than two kilometres to go until landing, the Rover’s pod shed its parachute (which otherwise could get in the way on touchdown) before downward facing rocket boosters were deployed to slow the Rover’s descent to a manageable speed. Then at 20 metres, to prevent the rocket boosters getting too close to the surface and created a potentially damaging dustcloud, the pod lowered the Rover down with a harness before shooting off to crash land somewhere safe. Much could have gone wrong but the mission was a resounding success, and the Curiosity Rover has since been analysing soil samples and other such data for signs of organic Martian life.
Anti-Islam film provokes outrage in the Arab world
A trailer of the amateur, low-budget film “The Innocence of Muslims” was released on YouTube in September, dubbed into Arabic, and provoked angry reactions across the world. Both US president Obama and US Secretary of State Clinton condemned the film, but failed to stem the violent protests against both the film and the USA. The maker of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, also known as Sam Bacile, Nicola Bacily and Mark Basseley Yousseff - is a convicted felon believed to be an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian.
Hurricane Sandy batters New York
Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York city at the end of October, having already caused massive damage across the Caribbean including Cuba and Haiti. The total death toll was over 120 people, and damage in the US alone was estimated at 80 billion US dollars. A fund-raiser was held in December featuring performances from artists including The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Kanye West, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel and The Who.
Felix Baumgartner jumps from space into history
Austrian Felix Baumgartner (43) became the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound when he jumped out of a balloon 38 kilometres above New Mexico in October. His descent took just under 10 minutes, with around half of it in freefall. The exploit broke the previous record for the highest, farthest and longest freefall, which was set by an Amercian, Joe Kittinger, in 1960.
Yes We Can again: Obama re-elected
Barack Obama defied his critics and the economic crisis by winning the US presidential election by a far wider margin than expected in November. The tightest count was in Florida: 50% for Democrat Obama and 49.1% for Republican Romney. In total Obama won 332 electoral college votes to Romney’s 206. Having won, he said that the wealthy should pay higher taxes in order to avoid the looming “fiscal cliff”, due in January. Obama’s political survival contrasts with the fate of many world leaders such as Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi, whose careers fell victim to globally high unemployment and slow economic growth.
UN vote: Palestine becomes an observer state amid Israel clashes
In the wake of renewed violent clashes along the Israel/Gaza border, the UN General Assembly voted to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state. The decision was condemned by Israel and the US, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returned from the meeting to a hero’s welcome in the West Bank. In response to the decision, Israel cancelled the transfer of around 85 million euros in tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority
Mali in the grip of coup crisis
The president of Mali, Cheick Modibo Diarra, was forced by the country’s military to resign in December. He replaced Diouncounda Traore, who was arrested after his resignation. The coup was condemned by many countries and by the UN but the new president said that the military had merely “facilitated” the president’s resignation rather than forced it. Islamist and Tuareg separatists seized control of the north of the country earlier this year.