Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The year that was 2008

As we usher in the new year, here are some of my picks of  global events that made the 2008 headlines. I have deliberately deleted news from Malaysia because I am sure many Malaysian bloggers are ahead of me on this.

This year, events from the Middle East, particularly Iraq, and Afghanistan will not be included. Recurring incidents of suicide bombings, tribal violence, US military attacks resulting in civilian deaths, kidnapping and murder of foreign aid workers and not to mention the age-long conflict between Palestine and Israel (which has exacerbated even more from the recent news) , have become all too stale.

For those who have missed some significant political events that have occurred throughout the year, this article will hopefully provide you with a gist of it.

Sore Loser of the year

Robert Mugabe The choice was either Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe (see picture) or Kenyan Raila Odinga, but in the end the decision was quite clear.

In January this year, hundreds died in tribal violence in Kenya when Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, won the Presidential election. Disgruntled supporters of opposition Raila Odinga, who is a Luo, carried out violent attacks against the Kikuyus. Finally, both rivals reached a power sharing deal where Odinga was declared as the Prime Minister.

But no one can be as sore as Robert Mugabe. After losing the Presidential election in Zimbabwe to opposition party Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvingirai, he refused to concede. The High Court ruled that Tsvingirai won the election by 47. 9% and a run-off election was necessary since neither candidate won more than 50%.

Tsvingirai dropped out from the run-off race after his supporters were subjected to violence and intimidation. He was detained several times by the police and many of his supporters were killed in government-back violence against the opposition.

In the end, another power sharing deal was signed between the two. Mugabe remained as President and Tsvangirai, Prime Minister.

Good luck to these countries. If the leaders can not even compete honourably, do they think they can share power harmoniously?

Biggest greed of the year

Nothing can compare to the melamine-tainted milk powder scandal in China, causing hundreds of thousands of  infants hospitalized for kidney complications and four dead. In order to fool the actual content of protein, Sanlu,  the company responsible for the irresponsible and unscrupulous act, increased the  quantity allowed for melamine in the milk powder.

The Chinese government is still ignoring the affected parents’ call for legal recourse. And Sanlu is now declared bankrupt with a USD292 million debt.

Months after, it is now reported that there may be high content of melamine in seafood from China. Let’s not forget the same scandal in pet food not too long ago.

What next, China?

Biggest reformist of the year

Kim Jong Il Is North Korea finally trying to end its reputation as one of America’s  axis of evil?

In May, it gave US officials about 18,000 pages of documents detailing its efforts in 1990, 2003 and 2005 to reprocess plutonium for nuclear weapons. A month later, it handed over to China a list of its nuclear facilities and information on the amount of reprocessed plutonium it possesses, in exchange for the removal of its name from the US’s terrorism list. It also asked for the lift of sanctions against it. It went further to destroy a cooling tower at its main reactor in Yongbyon.

Finally, in October, the US removed North Korea from its terrorism list, which paved the way for the latter to allow international inspectors access to its nuclear plan.

Anti-dissidents crackdown of the year

Choices were between China and Thailand.

Olympic torch relay protest in Paris

In anticipation of the 2008 Olympics Game hosted by China, the world took the opportunity to protest against human rights abuses in Tibet. Chinese journalists, human rights activists and scholars were arrested and imprisoned, in its attempt to crackdown on anti-governmental protest. Media censorship was carried out in order to prevent the Chinese population from having access to critical information on China.

Violent clashes were carried out by the government against Tibetan monks. Majority of people in the autonomous region of Tibet, especially the younger generation, has called for full independence from China but the prospect looks bleak when the latter repeatedly states that any attempts to separate both are doomed to fail.

Many Tibetans say they were an independent nation before communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing says the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries.

In another part of Asia, anti-government protest, albeit violent, was more successful.

Samak_Sundaravej In September, the Thai government declared a state of emergency when violent clashes erupted between supporters of the People Alliance for Democracy calling for the resignation of  Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej (see photo above) and pro-government groups.

Samak was forced from office when Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that he violated the constitution by being paid to appear on a cook show. He was replaced by First Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

A month later, anti-government protest became deadly when two people were killed and more than 400 wounded in fighting between security forces and anti-government protesters.

The protestors then took siege of the Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, calling for the resignation of Somchai, whom they labelled a proxy to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In December, the Constitutional Court ruled that the governing party engaged in fraud during the 2007 elections and forces Prime Minister Somchai from power and bans  party members from politics for five years.

The protesters ended their weeklong blockade of the airport and Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, was elected as the new Prime Minister.

The latest news shows that pro-Thaksin supporters are now protesting in the streets against the new Prime Minister. 

Friendship of the year

    新华社发We know how China has threatened to use force against Taiwan if the latter breaks away from the Motherland.

This year, Taiwan elected a new President, Ma Ying-Jeou of the Nationalist Party, who favours closer ties with mainland China.

As a sign of goodwill, China presented two giant pandas, named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan (when combined they mean “unity”) to Taiwan.

Let’s hope that the pandas will start playing their diplomatic role soon. They can forget about enjoying steamed corn buns and bamboo shoots all day.

Natural disaster of the year

In May 3, Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma, killing 78,000 people and leaving a million homeless. 28,000 people were reported missing.

A few weeks later, an earthquake hit Sichuan, Gansu and Yunan provinces in China, killing 70,000 people. This was China’s worst disaster in three decades. Nearly 900 students were trapped in Juyuan Middle School when the school collapsed during the earthquake. Later in September, China admitted for the first time to shoddy construction which might have caused the school to collapse.

A landmark report was issued by China recently, openly acknowledging its needs to review construction work in majority of schools especially in rural areas.

Careful, China. You may be the world’s most populous country but it may not last for long if you continue.

Defeat of an unnatural disaster of the year

After a 13-year manhunt for Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb President during the war in Bosnia, he was arrested and charged for genocide and war crime against non-Serb civilians on July 21. He was found outside Belgrade despite altering his appearance and had been openly practising alternative medicine in Serbia. He is now facing trial at the UN International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

Karadzic orchestrated the massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995 in Sebrenica.

Justice triumphs as well  for the 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were massacred in Rwanda in 1994 within a span of 100 days.

In December 18, the UN International Tribunal on the Rwandan Genocide found Theoneste Bagosora, a Hutu general, guilty of involvement in the  massacre.

Most valuable treasure of the year

I have a feeling that water will be a cause for war in the future as we face climate change as a result of environmental degradation. In fact, it has happened already in Egypt and Ethiopia where both countries are prepared to enter into conflict over  water dispute at the Blue Nile gorge.

Anyway, Australia revealed that an ancient underground water basin the size of Libya formed between 100 to 250 million years ago, holds the key to Australia avoiding a potential water crisis.

This Great Artesian Basin covers 1.7 million sqkm and holds 65 million gigalitres of water, about 820 times the amount of surface water in Australia. It slowly tops up 1 million megalitres of water a year as rain filters through porous sandstone rock and trapped in the underground basin. A hydro geologist said that the water will fulfil Australia’s needs for 1,500 years.

Oil-rich nations may finally enjoy some peace when developed countries turn to Australia for water exploitation in the future.

Biggest “Blast”  of the year

In November 26, the world was shocked by a series of  terrorist attacks on two five-star hotels, a train station and a cinema  in Mumbai, India,  killing 170 people and leaving 300 wounded. Deccan Mujahidin, a previously unknown group, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Indian officials said the way that the ten gunmen carried out the attack was both stunning in its brutality and duration. It took Indian forces three days to end the siege.

India was quick to point a finger at Pakistan although the latter had denied having any involvement in the attacks. Such accusation further strains an already tense relationship between the two countries. Recent news said that Pakistan has already redeployed its military troops from Afghanistan to its border with India. Inside news I’ve received indicate that aid organizations have issued security warning to staffs in Pakistan in anticipation of a looming potential threat.

Indian and U.S. officials said they believe the militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved.  In December 7, Pakistani troops raided a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and arrest several militants, including Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the man suspected of organizing the attack. A few days later, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, was placed under house arrest.

Execution of the year

Bali BombersIn Indonesia, Bali bombers, Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas a.k.a Ali Ghufron were executed by firing squad on November 9. They were convicted for masterminding the 2002 bombings in Bali which killed 2002 people, mostly tourists.

Many people, especially families of the three were outraged by  photos of their dead bodies being uploaded on the internet.

War of the year

Since the election of Mikheil Saakashvili  as President of Georgia in 2004, fighting between Georgia and South Ossetia has started, albeit sporadically. The President intends to resume control over the breakaway enclave which won a de facto independence in early 1990s.

In August 7, Georgian soldiers attacked South Ossetia and was retaliated by  separatists in South Ossetia, resulting in the death of about a dozen troops and civilians.

A day after, Russia entered Georgia with military troops and tanks to support South Ossetia. The former intensified its military involvement by moving its troops into Abkhazia, another breakaway region to launch airstrikes at Tbilisi, capital of Georgia. The airstrikes carried out in Gori, a strategic town 64km  from Tbilisi, killed about 1,500 civilians, prompting thousands of people in South Ossetia to flee their homes.

To cut the long saga short, leaders of the European countries, USA and NATO warned Russia to end the conflict in Georgia but Russian defied the warning until a peace broker led by the French was carried out.

Then Russia went on to ignore the peace deal and continued to station its troops in Gori. It then signed a cease-fire agreement but went on to defy it again.

A week later, Medvedev unilaterally recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent regions, only to be denounced by the US and its allies.

Russia and Georgia sever diplomatic ties from each other and this marks the first time that the former has cut off formal relations with one of its former republics.

After a month of conflict, Russia finally  removed troops from Georgia by mid-October and permited 200 observers from the EU to keep watch over the conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Independence Day of the year

In February 17, Kosova declared independence from Serbia. The US, UK, Germany and France became the first few nations to recognize its sovereignty. Malaysia became the 51st country to recognize its independence.

Constitutional revolution  of the year

In Nepal, the Maoist party won majority seats in the Constituent Assembly election in May, resulted in a majority vote to dissolve the 239 year-old monarchy to form a republic. King Gyanendra was forced to step down within 15 days.

At least, they didn’t chop off his head!

Step down of the year

Former Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf faced impeachment on charges of violating the constitution and misconduct of suspending the country’s constitution and firing the Chief Justice and other judges on the Supreme Court in 2007.

In August 18, Musharraf resigned as President but adamantly refused to admit any wrongdoing. He claimed that the reason for his step down was to put the country’s interests above “personal bravado”. Yeah, right!

Fidel Castro However, the pick has to go to Cuban leader Fidel Castro who finally resigned after being in power for 49 years. He was the longest reigning dictator in power. His brother Raul Castro resumed his position.

The comeback of the year

22putinb250 We all thought that we would not be able to catch a glimpse of that toned 56 year-old Russian body again.

After serving two terms (from 2000-2008) as President of  Russia,  Vladimir Putin returned to serve as the Prime Minister of Russia on May 8, after Dmitri Medvedev became the new President.

Person that made history  of the year

Barack Obama Histories are being made every day but this one will probably be remembered for an indefinite period of time.

In November 4, Democrat, Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America.

Well, I don’t really want to dwell into this because next year is what really matters for this guy.

Best Headline of the year

I know I said earlier on that I shall not touch on any news from the Middle East but this is definitely worth a mention. After all, I think it is the headline of the year.

Who will ever forget Muntader al-Zaidi after his shoe throwing performance in December 14?

The Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George Bush and called the latter “a dog” at a news conference in Baghdad.  The latter managed to dodge on time. Damn! If only Bush could practise his quick reflex in avoiding in-coming shoes on other matters, the world would be a much happier place to live in.

The only beneficiary from this act which many have condemned and others supported, is the Turkish shoemaker who made the famous footwear (apparently some Saudi offered USD1 million for them). Sales of his shoes have surged since then while the man responsible for bringing him fame is being imprisoned and charged for aggression against a President. If convicted, Muntader al-Zaidi face a 15-year jail term. After apparently being beaten up in jail, he has issued an apology to the President of Iraq. I wonder if he would rather die than say sorry to the victim?

Our very own Foreign Minister, Rais Yatim in a public speech, praised the Iraqi Shoe Thrower. Careful, Rais…if everyone starts to throw shoes at world leaders, our very own Jimmy Choo may go bankrupt!

I am saving the best for last:

Most shameful exit of the year

I couldn’t possibly not pay tribute to George Bush in his final year as the President of the United States of America. The International Herald Tribune (IHT) wrote that one good thing Bush brought to Iraq is a surge in shoe sales!

Bush’s legacy includes war with Iraq without the UN’s sanction and a mismanaged war in Afghanistan. Bush has been careless with his foreign policies on both countries, without having clear plans on what to do with the countries once his troops entered the countries. His only guiding principles are to send more troops and more war.

He was also careless about the Israeli-Palestine issue, uttering noble thoughts but with no follow up, as IHT put it.  He was careless in delegating power to Vice President Dick Cheney, allowing the latter to undermine negotiations with North Korea.

Nothing has hurt the US’ reputation more than the controversies surrounding Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. In March, Bush vetoed a bill to ban severe interrogation techniques used by the CIA against those suspected of link with terrorist organizations.

Now, thanks to Bush, the world is going bankrupt with unemployment rate reaching its highest in five years.

So, I think, Bush deserves more than just shoes being hurled at him. Don’t you think?

bush_bookupsidedown Bye bye, Bush!

To end this long article, I would like to quote The Terminator, Yes, not any wise man or woman, but The Terminator. It says that human being’s nature is to destroy themselves. So it seems, with all the conflict and killings that are happening in our world  in the name of greed and power.

Nevertheless, do try to have a happy 2009!

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