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Five non-coronavirus stories that shaped the world in 2020

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By Luke Hurst
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2020 was full of world-changing events - even without the coronavirus pandemic
2020 was full of world-changing events - even without the coronavirus pandemic   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Even if we don't count the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 would stick out to future historians as a year full of world-changing events.

From the US presidential election to long-running protests against "Europe's last dictator", these are just five of this year's non-COVID stories that will shape the world for years to come.

Joe Biden beats Donald Trump in the US election

Patrick Semansky/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks after the Electoral College formally elected him as presidentPatrick Semansky/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The eyes of the world were on the United States in November, to see whether the world’s biggest economic and military power would give Donald Trump another four years as president, or opt for Democrat Joe Biden.

While the election took place on November 4, tight races in some key states meant Biden wasn’t projected as the winner for a few days, as ballot counting continued.

But Trump didn’t accept he lost the election, instead making allegations of a widespread election fraud perpetrated by the Democrats, without providing any evidence.

Biden won with a record 81,283,485 votes against Trump’s 74,223,744 in the popular vote, and crucially the Democrat won the electoral college vote by 306 to Trump’s 232.

Since the election, Trump’s campaign has fought the result in the courts, filing dozens of lawsuits, almost all of which have been thrown out or dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Biden was officially confirmed as the president-elect by the electoral college on December 15.

Trump has turned US politics - and the country’s standing in the world - on its head. From his ‘America First’ policy moving the US away from its perceived global leadership role, to lambasting anyone who he felt wasn’t showing him the right level of support.

He will leave the White House early next year as one of the most controversial world leaders of modern times.

Aside from losing the election, 2020 has been a rollercoaster year for Trump. In January, he became just the third president to face an impeachment trial, with the House of Representatives accusing him of two charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The charges related to accusations that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden ahead of the 2020 election race.

Ultimately, like the two other presidents who faced impeachment before him, he was acquitted, thanks to the Republican majority in the Senate.

The UK leaves the EU

Matt Dunham/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
UK prime minister Boris Johnson led the charge for Brexit, and is now heading negotiations with the EU for a dealMatt Dunham/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on January 31 this year - but with a transition period in place as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

It is the first time a country has left the bloc, and the longer-term fallout is yet to be seen.

The four years since the referendum have changed British politics almost beyond recognition, with the country going through three prime ministers, two general elections, and a purge of pro-EU MPs from the party that has governed that whole time, the Conservatives.

But the saga has only dragged on through the rest of 2020, as the UK and the EU wrestled over a trade deal and other arrangements for when the transition period ends on December 31.

Without a deal, Britain will leave on a ‘no-deal’ basis, which will be economically damaging for both sides - the UK especially - due to tariffs that will be applied to goods either side wants to trade.

In terms of what actually has changed since the UK left the bloc, Britain’s 73 MEPs vacated their seats in the European Parliament, and British ministers have been absent from EU summits, the UK is no longer able to influence EU policy despite the continuity provided by the transition period.

So while the UK’s departure this year didn’t usher in any hugely dramatic changes, that will no longer be the case by the start of 2021. Negotiations are teetering on the edge, and time is running out for the two sides to reach an agreement.

Revolution stirs in Belarus

Sergei Grits/AP Photo
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has led the opposition to long-time Belarusian leader Alexander LukashenkoSergei Grits/AP Photo

Alexander Lukashenko, called "Europe’s last dictator" by some, won the country’s presidential election in August by a landslide, according to his regime.

But western governments, the EU, and vast swathes of the population of Belarus dispute this, claiming the election was rigged in favour of Lukashenko, who has been president for 26 years - and is the only president the country has ever had.

Led by a coalition of female leaders, the opposition saw a huge swell of public support in the runup to the election, and following the result, there have been unprecedented widespread protests throughout the country.

Despite repression by state security forces, that has included thousands of arrests, allegations of torture, and the deaths of a number of activists, protests are continuing to materialise on the streets of Minsk and beyond.

The leader of the opposition, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the election, was awarded the EU’s Sakharov Prize for human rights and freedom of expression, which she collected in Brussels in December.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya stood for the presidency following the imprisonment of her husband, a previous presidential candidate. She has since been forced into exile, while other leaders of the opposition have either been forced to leave the country or are in prison.

At the award ceremony, Tskikhanouskaya declared to the European Parliament: "We are bound to win, and we will win".

Beirut's government resigns after huge port explosion

AP Photo/AFP
Beirut suffers unprecedented damage following explosionsAP Photo/AFP

Around 200 people were killed and thousands injured in a huge blast at the port of Beirut in Lebanon in early August.

But the fallout from that explosion went further than the damage, death and destruction it caused, ultimately leading the government to resign following widespread public and international outcry.

On the afternoon of August 4, a huge blast, so powerful it was felt hundreds of kilometres away in Israel and Cyprus, rocked the city.

Officials said it was caused by the ignition of around 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, an industrial fertiliser, that had been sitting in the port for years, improperly stored.

More than 200 people are confirmed to have died from the blast, thousands were hospitalised, and around 300,000 people were left homeless due to the widespread damage caused throughout much of the city.

As information about the cause of the explosion was released, with a potentially dangerous substance being stored in insecure conditions, in huge amounts, close to a heavily populated area, anger grew in a country that was already suffering from severe economic woes.

A few days after the blast, with public anger growing and clashes between protesters and security forces, the government resigned.

Prime minister Hassan Diab, who remained in post as a caretaker prime minister until a replacement government could be formed, is just one of a number of officials to now face charges over the explosion.

A judge who filed the charges said ministers had received several written warnings about the ammonium nitrate and didn’t take measures to avoid what happened.

Black Lives Matter goes global

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP
Protesters gather in support of the Black Lives Matter movement for a protest in Trafalgar SquareDANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest, led to huge protests not just in the United States where the incident took place, but across the world.

On May 25, Floyd was arrested after allegedly trying to pay for groceries with a counterfeit banknote. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer from the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on his neck, while other officers assisted in restraining him or kept onlookers from intervening.

After a video of Floyd’s death went viral online, protests sprung up against police brutality and racial injustice, initially locally, before spreading across the US, and then the wider world.

Demonstrations took place across European cities, where issues of current racial inequality, police brutality, and historical issues such as colonialism were thrust into the spotlight.

The Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 following the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin, gained international traction following Floyd’s death, with organisations being founded in a number of different countries.

The movement says its aim is to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes”.