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WORLD | 29-12-2018 09:39

2018: The key events that shaped the year

From a spy drama that poisoned ties between Russia and the West to major US turnarounds under President Donald Trump, here are some of the major events that marked 2018.

SPY POISONING SAGA

On March 4, Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter are discovered unconscious and poisoned on a bench in Salisbury, England.

London points the finger at Moscow and in September issues arrest warrants for two Russian operatives for attempting to kill the Skripals. Moscow rejects all charges.

Angry exchanges between the two capitals bring in other Western nations behind London. Eventually dozens of Western and Russian diplomats are expelled in tit-for-tat reprisals, and new sanctions are brought against Russia.

The Skripals survive but in June, a British woman dies after coming into contact with Novichok in a village outside Salisbury. Her partner falls gravely ill.

SYRIA REGIME VICTORIES

On April 14, the Syrian Army declares that all anti-regime forces have been forced out of the Eastern Ghouta area adjoining Damascus after a blistering two-month offensive that leaves more than 1,700 people dead.

It is a major victory in the government’s effort to reassert control after the 2011 uprising that pulled the entire country into a devastating conflict.

The same day the United States, Britain and France carry out pre-dawn strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in response to a suspected chemical attack on the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma that killed scores of civilians. The regime denies the allegations.

Backed by Russia’s military might, al-Assad’s forces go on to notch up a series of victories against rebels and insurgents, to be back in countrol of two thirds of the ruined and divided country.

In the closing days of the year, to much controversy, Trump announces he will pull out US troops from Syria.

TRUMP QUITS IRAN DEAL

On May 8, President Donald Trump pulls the United States out of the hard-won 2015 accord that limits Iran’s nuclear weapons programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions against the Islamic republic. The “one-sided deal” does not go far enough in preventing Iran from creating a nuclear bomb, Trump says, among other criticisms. The remaining parties to the accord – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – insist Iran has abided by its commitments and vow to keep the deal intact.

In August Washington reimposes a first wave of sanctions on Iran; in November there is a second.

US MOVES EMBASSY

On May 14, the United States opens its new Embassy in Jerusalem, infuriating the Palestinians – who also claim the holy city as their capital – and flouting years of international policy.

Clashes erupt on the border with Israel and the Palestinian territory of Gaza: after the bloodiest day in the dragging conflict in years, around 60 Palestinians are dead, killed by Israeli gunfire.

ITALY’S POPULISTS IN

On June 1, a populist coalition government takes power in Italy formed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right anti-migrant eurosceptics. New Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the antiimmigrant and anti-Islam League, introduces a hardline policy that sees Italy largely closing its borders to migrants.

Anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe had already been boosted in April when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban lead his party to a crushing victory at legislative elections.

TRUMP, KIM MEET-UP

On June 12, Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet in Singapore in the firstever meeting between sitting leaders of the two countries. They sign an agreement which reaffirms Pyongyang’s commitment to the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

But so far North Korea has taken few concrete steps to abandon its nuclear weapons, and the two sides have sparred over the meaning of the vaguely worded agreement.

YEMEN WAR

On June 13, the war in Yemen steps up a notch when pro-government forces, supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, launch an assault to wrest back control of the vital aid port of Hodeida from Huthi rebels, backed by Iran.

The war, which started in 2014, has already killed about 10,000 people with 20 million at risk of starvation, according aid agencies.

The two sides meet for UNbrokered peace talks in Sweden in early December.

THAI CAVE BOYS

There is a global sigh of relief on July 10 when the last of 12 young football players and their coach are extracted safe and sound from a flooded cave in northern Thailand where they had become trapped 17 days earlier. The fate of the junior football team had captured world attention, with US and British diving experts joining the rescue effort and a former Thai Navy diver losing his life.

HEAT AND FIRE

In July-August Europe swelters in a heatwave which approaches the continent’s record 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 Fahrenheit), as deadly forest fires rage in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

In November, California is ravaged by its deadliest fire ever, with 85 people dying before it comes under control after two weeks.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation announces in November that 2018 is set to be the fourth-hottest year on record.

KHASHOGGI MURDER

On October 2, dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post, enters his country’s consulate in Istanbul and is never seen again.

After more than two weeks of denials and contradictory statements, Riyadh admits that he had been killed inside the consulate after a brawl. It fires various officials and arrests others, also acknowledging the journalist’s body had been dismembered.

The murder tarnishes the kingdom’s image and notably that of its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, amid questions over whether he had ordered the killing, which the country vehemently denies.

BRAZIL VEERS RIGHT

On October 28, the region’s biggest country swerves to the right in an election that sees former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro elected as Brazil’s new president. During a particularly virulent campaign animated by hate speeches and peppered with outbreaks of violence, Bolsonaro is stabbed in the belly at a rally in September. He takes office on January 1.

US MIDTERMS

Midterm elections on November 6 see the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives while the Republicans bolster their majority in the Senate.

The last days of campaigning are rocked by the worst antiSemitic attack in US history, when a gunman kills 11 people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the mailing of pipe bombs to high-profile Democrats including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

An approaching caravan of thousands of Central Americans also draws headlines away from the campaign, the migrants arriving at the heavily patrolled Mexico-US border from mid-November.

FRANCE’S ‘YELLOW VESTS’

On November 17, protests flare across France in opposition to rising fuel taxes and living costs, later swelling into a broad movement against the policies of the government of President Emmanuel Macron. The “yellow vest” protests, named after the flourescent safety jackets worn by demonstrators, come to a head with rioting and looting in Paris.

After the government backs down on the planned fuel tax, Macron on December 10 outlines other measures to calm the anger, including a boost to the minimum wage.

BREXIT DEAL CHAOS

On November 25, after 17 months of negotiations, the European Union and Britain agree on an accord covering Britain’s exit from the bloc by March 2019. But British Prime Minister Theresa May on December 10 postpones a Parliament vote on the deal set for the following day, acknowledging it would be rejected. She survives an internal party no-confidence vote on December 12.

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