These are my top ten world news stories of 2004, in reverse order (actually, it's eleven):
=10. People power in Venezuela and the Ukraine
In Venezuela, attempt after attempt to remove Hugo Chavez from power came to an end when his presidency was reaffirmed in a recall vote in August. In the Ukraine, a presidential election was so blatantly rigged that public pressure forced a fresh poll, and a win for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko after he survived a bizarre assassination attempt.
9. The overthrow of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Aristide was removed from office in February in dubious circumstances, kidnapped and flown to Africa. Who was behind the coup?
8. The Athens Olympic Games
The facilities were ready in time, even if there were a few corners cut. There were no problems with terrorism. But medal tallies went down as well as up as athletes galore tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Even a gold-medal winning horse was later found to have been high during his event. Add bad sportsmanship (Sally Robbins' team-mates) and blatant acts of bribery (Craig Stevens' withdrawal from the Australian swimming after selling exclusive TV rights for his withdrawal announcement to the highest bidder) and you had more proof than ever that the Olympic ideals are dead.
7. The expansion of the European Union
The EU expanded to cover most of the continent on May 1 with the admission of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta, Slovenia and Cyprus.
6. Bombings on the Madrid railway
More than two hundred people were murdered by terrorists with multiple bomb blasts on the Madrid rail system. Jose Maria Aznar's government lacked transparency in their handling of the atrocity, and was swept from power at the general election four days later. Those who said that this outcome encouraged terrorists missed the point.
5. Massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan
No matter how wrong Russia's treatment of Chechnya has been, nothing justifies the gruesome booby-trapping and slaughter of hundreds of innocent children in their classrooms.
4. Warfare and atrocities in Iraq
Possibly America's most inept foreign incursion in history. The removal of a foul, but internationally benign, dictator on false pretences has lead to an unwinnable war, the creating of a fertile breeding ground for terrorists, and flagrant disregard of not just the Geneva Convention but fundamental decency on both sides. The webcasting of the murder of innocent people represents perhaps the nadir of humanity.
3. The US presidential election
Over a billion US dollars was squandered on this travesty of democracy. A year-long circus leads up to an utterly shambolic poll, where the system used varies from state to state and sometimes from county to county. Even the composition of the antiquated electoral college is not consistent across the nation. This might be the first presidential election won by party operatives hacking into electoral computers... and is it true that many voting machines were set by default in favour of Bush before a vote was cast? The US electoral system will be neither free nor fair until (a) voting procedures are consistent across all fifty states, and (b) the recount is seen as a basic democratic right.
2. Humanitarian crisis in Darfur
The brutal civil war in western Sudan has been going for more than twenty years. It could be drawing to its conclusion. Could. Out of the gaze of live television, thousands upon thousands of people have been murdered, more than million dispossessed from their homes. Prior to December 26 there was no greater humanitarian crisis this year.
1. The Indian Ocean tsunami
For all the fear in recent years of a terrorist-driven catastrophe, it was natural causes that led to the death of more than 150,000 people and the destruction of basic facilities for millions of others. Maybe an early warning system could have prevented many of the deaths. It wouldn't have stopped the destruction of whole towns and economies. The full geopolitical implications of this tragedy are yet to unfold.