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News stories that made headlines around the globe in 2019

Dawn.com takes a look at the global events that shaped the outgoing year.

Updated Dec 26, 2019 12:31pm

From elections in the world’s biggest democracy to the impeachment of the United States president, the year 2019 has been an eventful one for the entire world.

Protests gripped cities across the globe at different times for various reasons; in India, citizens came out against the Hindu-nationalist government for passing a discriminatory bill; in Hong Kong, residents demanded democracy from China's ruling Communist Party; and in Iran, people protested against a 200 per cent increase in fuel prices.

Populist leaders faced resistance, not only from their opponents but from the next generation of rulers: the youth. Terrorist attacks at religious sites forced the world to address the pressing issue of rising Islamophobia while a mass movement called attention to undeniable affects of climate change.

Here, Dawn.com takes a look at the global events that shaped the outgoing year.

Christchurch and Easter Sunday attacks

People stand across the road from a mosque in central Christchurch after the attack. — AP/File
People stand across the road from a mosque in central Christchurch after the attack. — AP/File

In March, the world was shaken when a right-wing terrorist entered two separate mosques in New Zealand's quiet city of Christchurch and opened fire at worshipers, killing almost 50 people.

The attack, that took place during Friday prayers, was livestreamed by the attacker on Facebook. The incident was immediately termed as a terrorist attack by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, forcing the world to talk about Islamophobia in Western countries and discuss measures needed to be taken to ensure protection of minorities.

A month later, nearly 300 worshipers were killed in devastating bomb attacks on two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The government said that the attacks were carried out by a local militant group National Thowheeth Jama'ath.

Sri Lankan security personnel walk through debris following an explosion in St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on Sunday. — AFP/File
Sri Lankan security personnel walk through debris following an explosion in St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on Sunday. — AFP/File

The horrific attacks led to anti-Muslim riots, prompting the government to impose a nationwide curfew that lasted four months.

Big elections and bigger promises

The mammoth Indian elections were watched closely as Narendra Modi, after a campaign fueled by nationalist sentiments, succeeded in returning to power. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a landslide victory despite a declining economy and increasing unemployment in the country.

Months after assuming power again, Modi’s government, emboldened by the overwhelming majority, passed the highly controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which makes it easier for all religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to gain Indian citizenship. It does not apply to Muslims.

The bill is in line with the party's election promise to weed out "foreign infiltrators". Modi's right-hand man Amit Shah, while campaigning for the 2019 elections, had vowed to expel "termites" from the country. It was not the first time BJP had adopted this position.

In 2016, during an election campaign in Assam, the BJP had promised to expel immigrants who cannot prove their citizenship. Keeping true with that vow, a National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published in August this year from which almost two million people — mostly Muslims — were left out. Most of the people who were left out had migrated from then East Pakistan in 1971.

Residents of Guwahati city of Assam protest against CAA. — AP/File
Residents of Guwahati city of Assam protest against CAA. — AP/File

These moves raised concerns over BJP government’s anti-Muslim policies and a US federal agency called for sanctions to be imposed on Amit Shah.

Read: As Modi advances agenda, India finds rare criticism in US

Due to widespread protests and deteriorating law and order situation, especially in the Guwahati city of India's northeastern state Assam, London and Washington issued travel warnings for the state. Furthermore, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe postponed a summit that was scheduled to be held with Modi in Gawahati.

Kashmir stripped of its autonomy

The BJP government in August unilaterally repealed Article 370 of the Indian constitution, stripping occupied Kashmir of its special status and imposing a strict curfew and communications blackout in the region, which has been in place for more than four months. Businesses were shut down while residents were scared of sending children to school. More than 4,000 arrests were made without charges and reports of horrific torture of Kashmiri residents emerged during the lockdown.

Read: 'They gave me electric shocks in a dark room': Screams in the night in occupied Kashmir

The move drew a strong reaction from Pakistan, who pushed the issue on global platforms in order to direct the world's attention towards human rights abuse in the region. Multiple US congress members tabled resolutions against Indian actions in the occupied region, demanding an end to the human rights violations, much to the chagrin of the BJP government.

Indian paramilitary soldiers turn back a Kashmiri motorist near a temporary check point during lockdown in Srinagar on Sunday. — AP/File
Indian paramilitary soldiers turn back a Kashmiri motorist near a temporary check point during lockdown in Srinagar on Sunday. — AP/File

The Kashmir issue was taken up by the UN Security Council for the first time in 50 years while the alarming possibility of a genocide of Muslims during the lockdown was also raised by human rights groups as well as Pakistan.

This was also the year when a US president, during Prime Minister Imran's trip to Washington, made an unexpected offer to act as mediator between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute. Donald Trump's offer, which he reiterated multiple times, was welcomed by Pakistan and turned down by India.

Trump's turbulent year in office and impeachment

Donald Trump is the third US president in history to have been impeached. — AFP/File
Donald Trump is the third US president in history to have been impeached. — AFP/File

After a year of will they, won't they, the US House of Representatives on Dec 19 voted in favour of Trump's impeachment and charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making him the third US president to be impeached.

Trump has been accused of trying to enlist a foreign government, Ukraine, to investigate a discredited theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 US elections, as well as his political rival Joe Biden, abusing his power as president. Biden is a contender for the Democrat presidential nomination for the 2020 elections, for which Trump is also running.

Trump and his Republican party members deny the allegations, but Democrats insist that the incumbent US president is "a threat to national security".

Washington's National Archives building displays a "closed" sign because of the partial US government shutdown. — AFP/File
Washington's National Archives building displays a "closed" sign because of the partial US government shutdown. — AFP/File

This was not the only challenge Trump faced this year. In December last year, he shutdown the government when the Senate refused to approve the $5.7 billion Trump demanded to build the wall at the US-Mexico border. The shutdown was lifted on Jan 25 this year after Trump and congressional leaders agreed to a deal. It was the longest shutdown in US history, lasting a record 34 days.

In April, the US Department of Justice made public the Mueller report, compiling Robert Mueller's findings in an investigation into charges that the US president had colluded with Russian hackers who meddled in the 2016 elections. Mueller exonerated Trump of collusion allegations but did not wipe away charges of obstruction of justice due to the latter's efforts to derail the investigation.

Despite domestic challenges, Trump foreign policy remained controversial and confrontational. This year saw Trump accept Israel's sovereignty over Golan Heights, declare Iran's Revolutionary Guards a terrorist force, and continue to slap tariffs on Chinese goods despite ongoing talks.

Protests grip the globe

Widespread demonstrations in Hong Kong attracted global attention after thousands of people took to the streets to protest against an unpopular bill, which would allow extradition to mainland China and had the support of Beijing. Due to the protests, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam withdrew the bill, but that did not put an end to the movement. Students took to the streets, demanding democracy and freedom, and received the support of the international community.

Police advance through the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood during clashes with anti-extradition bill protesters in Hong Kong on Aug 14, 2019. — Reuters/File
Police advance through the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood during clashes with anti-extradition bill protesters in Hong Kong on Aug 14, 2019. — Reuters/File

Initially, the protests were peaceful but with time, protesters increasingly clashed with the police who used rubber bullets and tear gas shells to contain the people. One student died in the clashes.

Anti-government protests were also held in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran, where people came out on streets to demonstrate against corruption, weakening economy and unemployment.

Anti-government protesters gather near barriers set up by security forces to close Rasheed Street during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq on December 3, 2019. — AP/File
Anti-government protesters gather near barriers set up by security forces to close Rasheed Street during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq on December 3, 2019. — AP/File

In Iraq, citizens took to the streets to protest against the government, accusing it of corruption amid increasing unemployment. More than 400 people died in clashes between police and protesters in several cities, including the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. By the end of November, the Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi stepped down after top cleric Grand Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani voiced his support for the protests.

Supporters of Lebanese President Michel Aoun wave national flags and orange-coloured banners of the political party he founded (Free Patriotic Movement) during a counter-protest near the presidential palace on Sunday. — AFP/File
Supporters of Lebanese President Michel Aoun wave national flags and orange-coloured banners of the political party he founded (Free Patriotic Movement) during a counter-protest near the presidential palace on Sunday. — AFP/File

Lebanon's premier Saad Hariri resigned as well after protesters refused to backdown. The Lebanese protested against sectarianism and corruption that they said was being supported by those in government. President Michel Aoun named former education minister Hassan Diab as the prime minister after gaining a simple majority of the 128-member parliament.

In Iran, massive protests were held after a sharp spike in petroleum prices. Though the government denies it, Amnesty International has said that more than 200 people had died in the riots.

Climate activists take to streets

This year, the global community's attention was drawn towards climate change and its devastating effects by 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who delivered an emotional speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September.

Also read: Greta Thunberg's 'How dare you?' — A major moment for climate movement

Marches were held across the world, including Pakistan, as citizens urged leaders to take immediate and serious measures to avert climate change

A young demonstrator holds a placard reading 'There's no planet B' as she takes part in a 'Fridays For Future' demonstration calling for climate action in the streets of Warsaw.— AFP/File
A young demonstrator holds a placard reading 'There's no planet B' as she takes part in a 'Fridays For Future' demonstration calling for climate action in the streets of Warsaw.— AFP/File

About 21 climate activists were arrested in London when they announced to launch a peaceful civil disobedience movement, as well as in other European countries where protesters tried to disrupt traffic and block roads.

Two prime ministers, election and a looming Brexit

Brexit kept the United Kingdom occupied from the beginning of this year. In January, the House of Commons served then premier Theresa May a historic defeat by rejecting a deal which she had arrived at with the European Union after tough negotiations.

Read: Theresa May — a prime minister defined and defeated by Brexit

She persevered and tabled the deal again before the parliament in March, weeks before the country was meant to leave the EU, only to be defeated again, this time by 149 votes. The 'leave' deadline was extended from March 29 to April 12 and then again to October 31. She faced a third defeat in May after which she announced her resignation and was replaced by Boris Johnson.

In a forlorn bid in March to appease the most ardent eurosceptic MPs in her party, British PM Theresa May offered to resign if they finally approved her deal. ─ AFP/File
In a forlorn bid in March to appease the most ardent eurosceptic MPs in her party, British PM Theresa May offered to resign if they finally approved her deal. ─ AFP/File

Johnson took dramatic measures to get the parliament to agree to leave the EU by October 31, one of which included suspension of the government for over a month. He was still forced to seek a delay in the 'leave' deadline, which was extended until January 31, 2020. Failing to convince the parliament, he called for snap elections in December and won with an overwhelming majority.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds his dog Dilyn as he leaves a polling station, at the Methodist Central Hall, after voting in the general election in London, Britain, on December 12. — Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds his dog Dilyn as he leaves a polling station, at the Methodist Central Hall, after voting in the general election in London, Britain, on December 12. — Reuters

On December 20, the parliament approved Johnson's Brexit deal, the first step toward fulfilling his election pledge to deliver Britain’s departure from the EU by January 31.

The uncertainty surrounding Brexit kept investors at tenterhooks as the pound lost value in international markets. Economists feared that a no-deal Brexit — which Johnson was keen on if the parliament did not agree to a divorce deal — would send shock waves through the world economy and send financial markets into a roil.

US-Saudi-Iran: a love-hate triangle

Tensions between traditional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran worsened in September when drone attacks on the former's two major oil plants, cutting off half of the Kingdom's output. The attacks were claimed by Iran-aligned Yemen rebel Houthi group but both the US and Saudi Arabia blamed Tehran for the assault.

This September 14 satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. — AP
This September 14 satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. — AP

The Trump administration slapped more sanctions on Iran and announced that it would deploy additional troops in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia called for action. The developments led to soaring oil prices as the world feared an armed conflict.

In order to help defuse tensions, Prime Minister Imran Khan offered to mediate between the two countries to help reach a peaceful solution and in October, visited both countries.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, however, dismissed the possibility of war with Iran, saying that it would gut the world economy, in an interview late in September. Iran, too, expressed readiness to hold talks with Saudi Arabia with or without a mediator.

Peace deal after 5 years of war

After five years of a devastating war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi rebels — which resulted in the world's worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen and killed around 100,000 people — both parties agreed to negotiate a peace deal.

A boy sits at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport. — Reuters/File
A boy sits at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport. — Reuters/File

The announcement of a peace deal came after Saudi Arabia brokered a power sharing agreement between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and southern separatists and was welcomed by the global community.

On November 26, it was reported that the Saudi-led coalition had freed 200 Yemenis as part of the peace deal. The Houthis welcomed the move and called upon the coalition to release all war prisoners. In September, the Houthis had released scores of detainees they had rounded up and held for years in rebel-controlled territory.

Though the war has not been called off by either side, human rights organisations hope the deal would put an end to the conflict.

Pak-India at brink of war

Relations between Pakistan and India hit their lowest point in February when a Kashmiri youth blew up an Indian paramilitaries convoy in occupied Kashmir's Pulwama district, killing more than 40 soldiers. The Indian government pointed fingers towards Pakistan and vowed to "ensure [Islamabad's] complete isolation from the international community".

On February 26, an Indian aircraft violated Pakistan's airspace through the Muzaffarabad sector and ejected its payload in a forest near Balakot, felling a few trees, on its return after Pakistan's armed forces responded.

In their haste to escape, Indian aircraft ended up releasing payload which fell near Balakot, says DG ISPR. — DG ISPR Twitter account
In their haste to escape, Indian aircraft ended up releasing payload which fell near Balakot, says DG ISPR. — DG ISPR Twitter account

The Indian army claimed to have "struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Balakot" and killed "a large number of JeM terrorists". The unsubstantiated claims were rejected by Pakistan and remain unproven.

The next day Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across the LoC from Pakistani airspace, following which two Indian aircrafts violated Pakistani airspace once again. Both the planes were shot down and one pilot was arrested.

Wreckage from one of the Indian aircraft shot down. — Photo courtesy ISPR
Wreckage from one of the Indian aircraft shot down. — Photo courtesy ISPR

The development sparked fears of a nuclear war in the region and the global community, watching the situation closely, called for deescalation.

Taliban talks: on-again-off-again

The US, with assistance from Pakistan, continued to hold peace talks with Taliban in order to end a long-drawn war. However, both US and Pakistan were unable to convince the Taliban to make the Afghan government a party to the talks, even after it came to power after a historic election.

The talks also had an impact on US' ties with Pakistan; in July Prime Minister Imran Khan went to Washington on his maiden trip as premier where he was well-received by Trump despite his earlier anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

Just as the US and Taliban closed in on a deal, however, Trump shocked the world in September by calling off a secret summit with Taliban meant to be held at Camp David after a US soldier was killed in a car bombing in Kabul.

The talks were resumed later and are underway.


Header design by Mushba Said.