IT HAS been a year for the record books with election and referendum results that have shaken the world almost as much as the catastrophic earthquakes that erupted on fault-lines around the globe
IN January, as winter snowfalls broke records on the east coast of the US and claimed the lives of 49 people, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test and followed that with a fifth in September, setting alarm bells ringing in the west and South Korea.
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While it is thought that North Korea has not yet mastered the technology for a hydrogen bomb, the threat has been great enough for Seoul and Washington to agree to deploy the THAAD advanced missile defence system in South Korea.
ON February 6, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit southern Taiwan killing at least 117 people and leaving hundreds injured, with most of the casualties caused by the collapse of the Wei-Guan Golden Dragon high-rise tower in Tainan.
Later in the year, central Italy was hit by three strong earthquakes in just three months. The quake, in August, killed almost 300 people and destroyed buildings dating back to medieval times. Two more quakes hit the devastated region in October.
New Zealand suffered a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in November. It was followed by a tsunami which claimed two lives and caused billions of pounds worth of damage.
This month, at least 100 people were killed and 136 seriously injured when a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Indonesia’s Aceh province on the island of Sumatra.
COLOMBIA PEACE DEAL
THE beginning of the year looked promising for Colombia with a breakthrough in peace talks between Farc guerrilla fighters and the government. The 50-year fight finally seemed set to finish in August when a deal was announced.
However, Colombians confounded predictions that they would vote yes in a referendum to support the deal. Shocked, but undaunted, President Juan Santos, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, went on to forge a new deal which this time dropped the requirement for a referendum and was approved by the Colombian congress. It is hoped both sides will stick to the agreement as the conflict has claimed the lives of nearly a quarter of a million people.
SURPRISE referendum results brings us, of course, to the UK vote in June to leave the EU. Despite pundits and polls confidently predicting that voters would opt to Remain, the UK voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to quit. The vote highlighted fundamental divisions within the UK, with Northern Ireland and Scotland voting to remain while England and Wales voted to leave.
David Cameron, who had agreed to the referendum in an attempt to pacify the anti-EU elements in his Tory Party and lessen the perceived threat of Ukip, was forced to step down as prime minister following the vote.
The ensuing Tory leadership contest saw the triumph of Theresa May, ostensibly a member of the Remain camp, whose mantra has since been: “Brexit means Brexit”.
Ukip’s Nigel Farage also stepped down as leader of his party and has since been seen cosying up to the president-elect of the US, Donald Trump.
WHICH brings us to the incredible victory for Trump in the US presidential elections. For those of a liberal persuasion, the whole process from his selection as Republican candidate to president-elect had something of a surreal, nightmarish quality, and Democrats in the US reacted with widespread protests.
It has since been claimed that the election was thrown by fake news bulletins on internet sites originating in Macedonia as well as Russian hacking of the emails belonging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The CIA and FBI have both alleged that Russia acted to help elect Trump and current President Barack Obama has ordered an investigation into the claims.
Despite her defeat, it should be remembered that Clinton succeeded in winning a presidential nomination on a major party ticket – a milestone for women in US history.
HOW Trump’s presidency will work out remains to be seen but if he wants to avoid the fate of the South Korean and Brazilian presidents this year he should attempt to steer clear any more scandals.
In South Korea, President Park Guen-hye was recently suspended over allegations that she had allowed an old friend to use the relationship to extort money from companies and influence government decisions.
The case is currently being investigated by the country’s constitutional court.
It is hard not to feel a tinge of sympathy for Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president.
It should have been her year of triumph as the country hosted the Olympics for the first time. Instead, even though she has not been implicated in the Petrobras oil scandal that has engulfed the country, she was sent packing in August over allegations she cooked the books to hide the country’s growing fiscal deficits.
BRAZIL and other Latin American countries were hit by the Zika virus which causes brain damage in unborn babies. It has since spread across the world, emerging as a global health threat.
Better news this year was that the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990.
The World Health Organisation also said that global malaria deaths have dropped by 60 per cent since 2000. Other positive health news was that there are now no known cases of Ebola in West Africa after Liberia was given official clearance of the deadly tropical virus.
IT has been labelled the “worst humanitarian catastrophe in a generation” but, despite widespread condemnation, the assault on the Syrian city claimed the lives of hundreds of innocents, many of them children.
The fall of Aleppo has not ended the civil war, however, as much of the eastern region of the country remains in opposition control. Even as government forces, aided by Russia, regained eastern Aleppo, Islamist extremists retook the historic city of Palmyra from Russian and Syrian troops.
The five-year war has claimed half a million people and forced 11 million from their homes.
At the same time as the siege of Aleppo, coalition forces attempted to retake Mosul in Iraq from Daesh fighters who seized the city two years ago. The fighters have been driven back but the battle continues amid much concern for civilians living in the city.
The coalition now has control of roughly one-third of Mosul.
TURKEY has also had a turbulent year with an attempted coup on July 15 which failed to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since then, he has arrested or sacked more than 100,000 officials, closed media outlets and arrested Kurdish politicians he suspects of disloyalty. This month, the country was hit by two car bombings, allegedly carried out by Kurdish militants, which killed 38 people and injured 155.
IN Brussels, 35 people were killed and more than 300 injured when two explosions struck a metro station and an airport, with Daesh claiming responsibility for the attack. Also in March, a suicide bomb in Lahore, Pakistan, killed at least 75 people and injured hundreds more, while on France’s Independence Day on July 14 a terrorist killed 87 people by driving a truck into crowds in Nice.
On December 19, a truck was driven into a Christmas market in Berlin killing at least a dozen people and injuring many more.
On the same day, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated in Ankara, apparently in protest at his country’s involvement in Aleppo.
THE UK managed a record haul of medals at the Rio Olympics, Iceland reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, notably beating England, and Wales stunned Belgium to reach the semis. Leicester City won the English Premier League at odds of 5000-1 and Andy Murray not only won Wimbledon and made tennis history by collecting another Olympic gold medal, he also went on to become the world’s No 1-ranked player.
DAVID Bowie, Harry Potter actor Alan Rickman, Eagles rocker Glenn Frey and Terry Wogan died in January, setting what seemed to be a trend in celebrity deaths. The year went on to claim Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, novelist Harper Lee, Father Ted’s Frank Kelly, ELP’s Keith Emerson, comedians Ronnie Corbett and Victoria Wood, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Andrew Sachs, Greg Lake, Ian McCaskill, Rick Parfitt, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, to name just a few.