INAUGURATION OF UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO
On 23 January, Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in as president of Ukraine, following the country's Orange Revolution and his subsequent victory in a repeat election in December 2004. He placed his right hand on the first Bible ever translated into Ukrainian and took the oath of office.
“I, Viktor Yushchenko -- elected by the will of the people as the president of Ukraine and entering into this high office -- solemnly swear to faithfully serve Ukraine and pledge that I commit myself with all my abilities to defend the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, to take care of the well-being of the homeland of the Ukrainian people, defend the rights and liberties of citizens, to uphold the constitution of Ukraine and the laws of Ukraine, to execute my responsibilities in the interests of all fellow citizens, to raise the position of Ukraine in the world.”
Less than eight months later, however, Yushchenko dismissed his government, which had been mired in a corruption scandal and intergovernmental strife. Yushchenko appointed a new cabinet and vowed to live up to the promises of the Orange Revolution.
Voters in Ukraine now look forward to parliamentary polls set for March -- the country’s first under a fully proportional, party-list system.
IRAQI ELECTIONS, REFERENDUM
On 30 January, voters in Iraq braved the threat of insurgent attacks to go to the polls to elect an interim National Assembly. U.S. and Iraqi officials described the vote as the country’s first step toward a new, more democratic system of government.
Interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir spoke about the vote in an interview with RFE/RL's Iraqi Service that day.
“I am proud. I am happy," al-Yawir said. "I have great joy on this blessed morning. Congratulations to all Iraqis. I am telling everybody -- vote for Iraq.”
The National Assembly oversaw the writing of the country's first post-Saddam Hussein constitution. The draft constitution was approved by voters in a 15 October referendum, amid a sizable Sunni Arab turnout.
REVOLUTION IN KYRGYZSTAN
Growing antigovernment protests in southern Kyrgyzstan culminated in the storming of the presidential compound in the capital Bishkek on 24 March. The protesters met with little resistance, and the government was toppled as ousted President Askar Akaev fled to Russia.
Opposition leader Topchubek Turgunaliev spoke to supporters outside government headquarters in Bishkek.
“Mr. Akaev has already been on the run for a long time," he told a cheering crowd as events unfolded. "Nobody knows where the hell he is. He is practically a political corpse now. (crowd cheers)”
Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev went on to win a landslide victory in presidential polls on 10 July that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said respected basic electoral freedoms.
DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
On 2 April, the tolling of the Vatican’s bells announced that the first Slavic pope, John Paul II, had died following a series of health problems. Within a few hours, more than 100,000 people had packed into St. Peter’s Square to gaze at the lighted windows of the pope’s apartments.
German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, among John Paul's most trusted aides, was elected as the new pope on 19 April after one of the shortest conclaves in history. The 78-year-old pontiff chose to call himself Pope Benedict XVI.
On 13 May, the Uzbek government cracked down brutally on hundreds of antigovernment protesters and civilians who had gathered in a central square of the eastern city of Andijon. The demonstrators had gathered following an overnight raid by dozens of men on nearby police and security facilities that allowed hundreds of prisoners to escape.
Galima Bukharbaeva, director of the Institute of War & Peace Reporting in Uzbekistan, was in the crowd of peaceful demonstrators that day, and spoke about what happened.
“It was almost 5:30 p.m. when the people saw BTRs [armored personnel carriers] approaching," Bukharbaeva said. "People began screaming and started running away. We also ran. There were two or three BTRs at first. I couldn't tell exactly because I was running together with the crowd. But then, just five minutes later, more BTRs came and they started shooting in people’s backs. Bullets were flying. It was terrifying.”
The government claims that 187 people, most of them terrorists and Uzbek security officers, died in the violence. Human rights groups say some 700 people died, many of them civilians. After initially muted reactions, Western governments condemned the violence and called for an international investigation, a step that was rejected by the Uzbek government.
SUICIDE BOMBINGS IN LONDON
On 7 July, four bombs exploded on London’s transportation network. More than 50 people were killed by the first suicide bombers to strike Western Europe.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was attending a G-8 summit in Scotland when he received the news: “It's reasonably clear that there have been a series of terrorist attacks in London. There are obviously casualties, both people that have died and people seriously injured, and our thoughts and prayers of course are with the victims and their families.”
The attacks have had lasting repercussions in Britain. Three of the four presumed bombers were young Muslims who had been born and lived in the United Kingdom. Muslims in Britain found themselves the target of hate crimes, while the government organized Muslim task forces to look for answers on how best to tackle extremism.
ISRAEL WITHDRAWS FROM GAZA STRIP
On 15 August, Israel began its complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. The withdrawal marked the first time Israel had dismantled settlements in areas occupied since the 1967 Middle East war. Little violence was reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon acknowledged that the move was painful, but he called the withdrawal the best way to protect Israel's security. And he had a warning for the Palestinians.
“The world is waiting for the Palestinian response -- a hand stretched out to peace or the fire of terror," Sharon said. "To an outstretched hand, we shall respond with an olive branch, but we shall fight fire with the harshest fire ever.”
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas called the Gaza pullout the first step toward an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.
Sporadic violence has continued in the region since. Abbas has recently urged militant groups to renew their commitment to peace, amid reports they may pull out of a nine-month-old truce after the New Year.
It was the worst natural disaster ever to strike the United States. On 29 August, Hurricane Katrina pounded the southern Gulf coast. Large swathes of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi were devastated, with billions of dollars of damage in the three states.
The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, issued an unprecedented mandatory evacuation order for all of the 500,000 residents of the city.
“We are facing a storm that most of us have feared," Nagin told residents. "I do not want to create panic. But I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious and it's of the highest nature. That's why we've taken this unprecedented move.”
The official death toll stands at more than 1,300, although bodies are still being discovered. The storm also carried hard political winds. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is still reeling from criticism that it responded too slowly to pleas for help, and his appointee as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, was forced to step down following the catastrophe.
BIRD FLU: NOT IF, BUT WHEN
International health experts say it is not a question of if, but when. That is, when bird flu will mutate into a virus easily passed through human-to-human contact. The flu strain has already killed some 70 people in Asia. But experts say millions could die if the lethal virus mutates.
Dick Thompson, a top official at the World Health Organization (WHO), warned of the dangers at a news conference in Geneva in September.
“At this point, anybody’s guess is as right or as wrong as anybody else’s," Thompson said. "WHO has estimated, and we advise countries to be prepared for a pandemic that would cause 2 [million] to 7.4 million excess deaths.”
The most virulent strain of bird flu -- H5N1 -- has been detected in dead birds in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Turkey, and Britain.
SOUTH ASIAN EARTHQUAKE
The ground shook, and lives crumbled. A major earthquake in northwestern Pakistan and Indian Kashmir on 8 October left some 87,000 people dead, and millions homeless.
Pakistan's chief army spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, described the devastation: “Maximum damage has been caused in most of the areas of [Pakistan-controlled] Kashmir and the areas along the Karakurum highway, where the earthquake caused triggering of landslides; and because of those landslides, some of those villages have been wiped off the face of the Earth. Those landslides have also resulted in the blocking of the roads, and in certain areas the rivers have been blocked, and it is feared that it may cause flooding of the areas.”
Relief efforts are continuing as the Himalayan winter sets in. The United Nations has warned that much more aid must be pledged to prevent even more deaths from cold, hunger, and disease.
2004 And Beyond
2003 And Beyond
2002 Year In Review
2001 Year In Review
2000 Year In Review