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2002 In Review: A Year Marked By A New Currency, Old Tensions, And Expanded Alliances

The year 2002 was filled with drama and contrasts. Nuclear and conventional warfare threatened some parts of the globe, while in others, countries pulled together in the name of peace and security. Europe introduced a new currency, while Afghanistan inaugurated a new transitional government. RFE/RL has those stories and more in a look back at some of the top news stories of the year.

Prague, 17 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Most citizens of Western Europe celebrated the start of 2002 with a new currency. After decades of dreaming and years of planning, the euro finally became a bankable reality.

Just after midnight on 1 January, cash machines in 12 European Union countries began distributing euro notes. Some of the first customers, Italian tourists in Paris, were thrilled as they held the new currency for the first time.

They cheered, "Vive la France!"

Some of these cheers disappeared later in the year when a European Commission survey showed a majority of people in the euro-zone believed the conversion to the new currency contributed to inflation.

In late January, a speech by U.S. President George W. Bush grabbed the world's attention. In his annual State of the Union address to both houses of the U.S. Congress, Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an "axis of evil." "States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," Bush said.

Bush accused these countries of seeking weapons of mass destruction. Iran, Iraq, and North Korea all angrily rejected the characterization.

At the beginning of March, a U.S.-led coalition launched a major offensive in its war against terrorism. Operation Anaconda targeted an Al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's Shah-i-Kot Mountains. Eleven U.S. and coalition soldiers died, and the United States claimed that an estimated 450 enemy fighters had been killed. At the end of the operation, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Tommy Franks, called it a success. "This operation was an unqualified and absolute success from the perspective not only of the coalition forces involved but also from the view of the Afghan forces," Franks said.

In the Middle East, the Israeli Army launched its own major military operation at the end of March in the West Bank. For the first time, Israeli troops targeted the Ramallah compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Israeli forces destroyed much of the complex.

The Israeli cabinet ordered the attack after a series of suicide bombings by Palestinian militants that killed 30 Israelis over three days. Israeli forces ended the siege months later.

In May, a new relationship between NATO and Russia began at a summit meeting held outside Rome. Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, the purpose of which is to identify areas of joint interest and to give Russia a say in some NATO decisions. Announcing the agreement, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson highlighted Russia's new status in the alliance. "In making this decision, you have formally now brought into existence the NATO-Russia Council, where all members around this table will work together as equal partners," Robertson said.

But as former Cold War rivals grew closer, tensions grew between the two nuclear rivals in South Asia. Relations between India and Pakistan had already been strained, but the situation deteriorated after Kashmiri separatist gunmen attacked India's parliament in New Delhi last December. India and Pakistan massed 1 million troops on their shared border. India threatened to attack to stop cross-border militant attacks if Islamabad would not. Pakistan refused to rule out a nuclear counterattack.

At the height of the tensions in June, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld traveled to both countries in an effort to calm the situation. "The president of the United States and Secretary [of State Colin] Powell are, needless to say, deeply interested in the relationships with this country and are anxious to see the tension that exists between India and Pakistan improved," Rumsfeld said.

A few days later, just across Pakistan's western border, Afghanistan began the process of choosing its interim government, with a traditional Loya Jirga meeting of leaders from around the country. Hamid Karzai, who led Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, was selected as interim president for two years until general elections could be held.

He pledged, "I am a humble man and a citizen of Afghanistan, and I will try my best in securing the religion, independence, [and] service to all the people of Afghanistan."

In August, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was in the middle of a tight political race to keep his job. In a move that won many votes but angered Washington, Schroeder made it clear that Germany would not take part in any war against Iraq. He repeated this stand often at campaign rallies. "Pressure on [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein? Yes! We must be able to send the international observers into the country. But I can only warn of playing games with war and military intervention. We will not be part of it, ladies and gentlemen," Schroeder said.

In September, U.S. President George W. Bush brought the issue of Iraq to the United Nations. In a speech to the General Assembly, Bush called on the UN to compel Baghdad to comply with Security Council resolutions on the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. He warned world leaders that the United States would act militarily if the UN did not confront Iraq. "We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather," Bush said. "We must stand up for our security and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand, and, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well."

In Baghdad the next day, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri criticized Bush's speech and denied his country had any banned weapons.

Sabri said Bush had "rehashed a lot of anti-Iraq propaganda. He has no evidence at all, [only] accusations which the public opinion has heard for the last 12 years. The American administration used such accusations against Iraq to justify their killing of the Iraqi population."

Later in September, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey marked the start of construction on the Caspian oil route to the Mediterranean, capping eight years of planning for an energy corridor through the Caucasus to the West. At a ceremony outside Baku, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said the project, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, was a dream come true. "Very often, those who were against the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan [oil pipeline] were saying that it is impossible, it is just a dream, there is not and would not be so much oil in Azerbaijan. There was a lot of such talk, and some people were convinced, but all that has proved to be unfounded, and we have done our work," Aliyev said.

In October, about 50 Chechen terrorists interrupted a popular theatrical performance in Moscow and took some 800 members of the audience and cast hostage. When the crisis ended three days later, 118 hostages were dead, all but two of them from the effects of a sedative gas pumped into the theater by Russia security forces to knock out the hostage takers.

Russia's deputy interior minister, Vladimir Vasilev, defended the operation and said the situation could have had a much worse ending. "We are deeply convinced that the decision we made was correct and timely. According to our information, if the operation had failed, we could have lost nearly 1,000 or more people -- I mean the hostages and the armed forces who had to resolve this problem," Vasilev said.

The beginning of November saw a big electoral victory for Turkey's moderate Islamic Justice and Development (Adalet ve Kalkinma) Party, and its charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The party won an absolute majority in parliament. Erdogan and his allies denied any Islamic political agenda and vowed to make EU membership a priority.

A few days later, Americans went to the polls. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a third of the U.S. Senate were up for re-election. In the end, control of the Senate passed from the opposition Democrats to the Republicans, giving President Bush's party control of both houses of Congress.

The Republican Party's leader in the Senate, Trent Lott, said he was surprised by the size of the victory, that it "did exceed our hopes and expectations to a degree, anyway, just because it did become so widespread, not only keeping the House [of Representatives] but taking back the Senate now by at least a couple of seats."

Near the end of November, at the NATO summit in Prague, the military alliance invited seven new members to join. NATO Secretary-General Robertson asked for and received official agreement from the heads of state and government from the current 19 members. "I, therefore, put it to the heads of state and government of NATO meeting here in the North Atlantic Council that we invite to accession talks with NATO the following nations: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. I take it that this is agreed. Thank you very much. The council has so decided," Robertson said.

Earlier this month, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter received the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. The citation mentioned his efforts as U.S. president to bring peace to the Middle East through the Camp David accords, as well as his numerous peacemaking missions in countries like Haiti and North Korea since leaving office.

In his acceptance speech, Carter spoke of the evils of war. "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children," Carter said.

Later in December came European Union enlargement. At a summit in Copenhagen, the EU approved future membership for 10 countries, the biggest expansion in the bloc's history. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia are expected to sign accession treaties next spring. The decision is still subject to approval by the parliaments of the 15 current EU member states and by referenda in the candidate countries. If all goes well, the candidates will join the EU in May 2004.

At the Copenhagen summit, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said enlargement would replace decades of division with a united Europe. "To our new members, I say warmly, 'Welcome to our family.' Our new Europe is born," Rasmussen said.

For EU-hopeful Turkey, however, the EU summit was something of a disappointment. Despite Ankara's demands -- and strong U.S. support -- for the EU to set a date for accession talks, EU leaders said they would only open membership talks after a review in 2004 to gauge Turkish efforts to institute further democratic and economic reforms.