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Friday December 29, 2006
By BUNN NAGARA
THIS has been a most eventful year for the world, for good and ill, as every corner of the globe had its share or more of momentous events.
Russia began 2006 with cutting gas supplies to Ukraine in January, setting off alarm bells in Europe over Moscow’s reliability as a major supplier. Towards the end of the year, the mysterious murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko confirmed Russia’s place in the front row of world prominence.
North Korea meanwhile made headlines by test-firing missiles, with the United States and Japan retaliating by firing pointed rhetoric. Although Pyongyang’s missiles were widely seen as failures, it soon followed this up with underground test explosions which it said were nuclear in nature.
Meanwhile in Taiwan, popular pressure mounted against Chen Shui Bian’s government over corrupt practices. Chen’s wife was charged, fainted in court, and then failed to attend a hearing as the trial and investigations continue.
Drama unfolded in Thailand as a September coup ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on the eve of his UN address in New York, three months after the country celebrated the king’s 60th anniversary on the throne. As the bloodless coup took hold, a Thaksin-weary public gave food and flowers to the soldiers, an interim Cabinet was appointed, and investigations launched into charges of Thaksin’s corruption and abuse of power.
The “arc of instability” in the South Pacific experienced mob violence in the Solomon Islands in April, and Prime Minister Snyder Rini resigned. Murderous violence then erupted the following month in Timor Leste, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri was pressed to quit in June, and tension between factions in the security forces remains.
Indonesia continued to see occasional earthquakes, but temblors also occurred inside courtrooms. The convicted son of former president Suharto, Tommy Mandala Putra, was released from prison, as were several other inmates on festival days. Then Abubakar Ba’syir, suspected leader of Jemaah Islamiah, was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Aceh held elections after a long and bloody history of Indonesian meddling and Portuguese neglect. As the results came in, it emerged that Free Aceh Movement (GAM) leader Irwandi Yusuf-Muhammad Nazar had been chosen by the people as governor of the province.
Pakistan’s President (Gen) Pervez Musharraf launched his biography on a tour of the United States as violence in Pakistan escalated. Tribal militias in northern Pakistan reasserted themselves, testing the delicate balance between their power and government authority in the provinces.
Afghanistan continued to see a steady deterioration in peace and stability. The Kabul government of President Hamid Karzai seemed increasingly surrounded by assertive militias, including a reinvigorated Taliban, as US military retaliation claimed innocent Afghan lives as well.
India meanwhile witnessed more economic growth surpassing its wealth-poverty gap. Strategically, the United States moved closer to make New Delhi a prospective ally, testing India’s commitment to non-alignment.
For Asean, Malaysia passed the baton of chairmanship to the Philippines, bypassing Myanmar (in alphabetical order) by common consent because the latter’s misgovernance had become a regional embarrassment. Meanwhile, the lack of positive change in Myanmar itself remained news.
Israel also maintained its international pariah status by invading Lebanon, again. This followed the incapacitation of former premier Ariel Sharon, after he fell into a coma at the beginning of the year.
The Palestinian people made history by voting in Hamas in January, the party blamed for instigating suicide bombing against Israel. After the election victory however Hamas stopped the violence, but an uneasy relationship has persisted between the Hamas premiership and the Fatah presidency.
Iran continued with its criticisms of Israel, but a new twist emerged as some US lawmakers considered asking Teheran’s help to pacify Iraq. An international conference hosted by Iran on the Jewish Holocaust was predictably condemned by Western commentators. For its part, Syria was also accused of fomenting violence in Lebanon, but similarly considered as a source of assistance for Iraq.
Iraq itself remained on the front ranks of global prominence, for all the wrong reasons. Violence and instability escalated, as the United States, being the chief foreign occupier, all but declared it hopeless as a prospective model of Arab democracy.
The Bush presidency plummeted further in domestic and world opinion, as a consequence of national mismanagement and international crises. Some 3,000 US troops had been killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, Donald Rumsfeld quit as defence secretary, and the opposition Democrats won control of Congress.
Political violence did not spare Africa, in fact much the opposite. The tragedy of Darfur entered its third year this year, when Sudan agreed to a UN peacekeeping role there, while Somalia further bore witness to a violence-wracked Horn of Africa.
Across countries, Muslim ire had been provoked again by republication of the controversial Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons in a French newspaper. Pope Benedict XVI also waded into controversy in a speech which fed Islamophobia, but he later made up for it with an apology and praying together with Muslim leaders in a Turkish mosque.
Personalities also stayed on the frontlines of world news. Cuban President Fidel Castro was hospitalised for months in his most serious illness yet, while his friend and colleague Hugo Chavez was re-elected in a landslide in Venezuela.
Chile’s former US-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet died, which for many of his victims and critics meant escaping justice for the thousands tortured and killed in his time. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also retires at the end of the year, as he cautions the world on the dangers of US-style unilateralism.
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