News Timeline: December 2005


December 1 – North America/Latin America: UNITED STATES/MEXICO

Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez condemns U.S. President George Bush’s plan to build border fences between Mexico and the U.S. The fences are intended to deter illegal immigration across the 2,000 miles of U.S.–Mexico border. Experts believe the fence will not deter migration because of the large wage gap between the two countries.

December 1 – Former Soviet Republics/Europe: UKRAINE

The European Union announces that Ukraine has made significant progress in reforms and grants it the status of a market-economy country. The move is expected to boost Ukraine’s trade relations with the EU.

December 2 – South Asia: NEPAL

Pro-democracy demonstrators stage Nepal’s biggest rally since King Gyanendra seized power in February. An estimated 40,000 protesters demand democracy. Also, Maoist rebel leader Prachanda extends his militia’s unilateral cease-fire for another month, saying that this peaceful approach against the king’s autocratic regime will boost the organization’s popularity.

December 2 – Europe/Former Soviet Republics: BELARUS

In advance of the 2006 presidential elections, Belarus’ parliament passes a law that makes mass protests illegal and punishable by a three-year jail term. The administration states that the law is designed to stop any demonstrations similar to those in Ukraine that sparked the Orange Revolution.

December 4 – Former Soviet Republics: KAZAKHSTAN

Incumbent Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev officially receives 91 percent of the vote in the presidential election. However, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers, the election was marked by irregularities such as multiple voting, ballot tampering, intimidation, and media bias. Nazarbayev has been in power since 1989.

December 5 – Latin America: VENEZUELA

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez take all 167 seats in parliamentary elections, which were boycotted by the five main opposition parties. Only one-fourth of Venezuela’s 14.5 million eligible voters participated, compared to 56 percent in the 2000 parliamentary election. The opposition argues that the low voter turnout invalidates the election.

December 6 – Europe/North America: ROMANIA/UNITED STATES

The United States and Romania sign a deal allowing the U.S. to use Romanian military bases, the first such agreement to be signed with a former communist country in Eastern Europe. The deal is a part of the Pentagon’s plan to reduce and reposition U.S. troops in Europe, placing them closer to potential trouble spots in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Romania is a U.S. ally with troops stationed in Iraq.

December 8 – Africa: KENYA

Sixteen ministerial appointees in Kenya refuse to take up their posts, arguing that President Mwai Kibaki failed to discuss the appointments with the coalition partners. Kibaki fired his previous cabinet after losing a constitutional referendum last month, which is seen as a rejection of his policies. In this situation, the opposition parties say Kibaki should call for an early general election.

December 8 – International Organizations/Africa: UNITED NATIONS/ZIMBABWE

After his four-day trip to Zimbabwe, Jan Egeland, the United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, says the country is in a dire situation. Since 1990 life expectancy in Zimbabwe has halved to 30 years, 20 percent of adults are HIV positive, inflation has reached 500 percent, about 500,000 people have been left homeless after the government’s demolition program, and three million people will need food aid over the next year. Egeland calls Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s policies criminal.

December 8 – Latin America: HONDURAS

Porfirio Lobo, the ruling National Party’s candidate in the Honduran presidential election, concedes defeat to the Liberal Party’s Manuel Zelaya Rosales. Formerly an investment minister, Zelaya campaigned on reducing bureaucracy, making the government more responsive, and creating an open economy. Both candidates had vowed to reduce crime rates and poverty in Honduras, where 30 percent of people are unemployed.

December 8 – Latin America: PERU

Peru signs a free-trade deal with the United States, eliminating tariffs on U.S. goods entering Peru, as well as barriers to trade in services. The U.S. seeks to bolster trade agreements with Peru and its Andean neighbors, hoping to create new jobs outside of the illegal drug trade. Peruvian unions, however, are worried about potential job loss due to rising imports from the U.S.

December 8 – Africa: EGYPT

Early results from Egypt’s parliamentary elections show that the opposition Muslim Brotherhood has won a record 87 seats in the 454-member assembly, making it the largest opposition group in the parliament. However, President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party wins over 70 percent of votes, gaining a two-thirds majority. The election, which was marred by arrests and violence earlier in the week, is seen as a test of Egypt’s commitment to political reform.

December 10 – North America: CANADA/UNITED STATES

Environmental ministers from 189 countries conclude a 10-day UN summit in Montreal, Canada. Signers of the Kyoto Protocol agree to maintain the treaty, which requires industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, beyond its 2012 deadline. Other countries, including the U.S., agree to non-binding talks on long-term climate change measures. The U.S. has been criticized for its refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which it argues could harm economic growth and development.

December 11 – Europe/Former Soviet Republics: MOLDOVA

Residents of the breakaway Trans-Dniester region in Moldova are voting in parliamentary elections. About 180 candidates compete for 43 seats. No international observers monitor the polls as no country recognizes the Trans-Dniester Republic, which proclaimed its independence from Moldova in 1990 and maintains close ties to Russia.

December 12 – Latin America/North America: CUBA/UNITED STATES

The governor of the U.S. state of Maine, John Baldacci, and a Cuban food agency, Alimport, sign a multimillion dollar trade deal. Although the United States has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba for over forty years, food sales on a cash basis were made legal in 2000. Many farmers and politicians support an end to the embargo. Maine is the first state to pass a resolution calling for an end of the trade and travel ban.

December 13 – Latin America: HAITI/ DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez meets with Haitian leaders in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, to discuss immigration and border security. Protestors demonstrate against the mistreatment of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. Although Fernandez vows to act to prevent abuse, he also reiterates that mass deportations of Haitians will continue. Haitians cross into the more affluent Domincan Republic in search of work.

December 14 – East Asia/International Organizations: EAST ASIA SUMMIT

Sixteen East Asian nations gather at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to establish a new regional forum, the East Asia Summit (EAS). The EAS will hold annual summits to cooperatively promote peace and economic growth among its members. The organization includes the countries of Southeast Asia, East Asia, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

December 14 – Middle East: ISRAEL

Israel approves the building of the Maale Adumim settlement, the largest in the occupied West Bank. The settlement, which will contain about 300 new homes, violates the roadmap peace plan and is considered illegal by the international community. According to the roadmap plan, Israel agreed to freeze all settlement building.

December 15 – Middle East: IRAQ

Voters turn out in high numbers for Iraq’s first election of a full-term government since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Sunni nationalist insurgent groups encourage Sunnis to participate in order to prevent them from being shut out of the government, after having boycotted the last election in January. The 275 elected members of the National Assembly will take over from the transitional government and serve a four-year term.

December 15 – East Asia/Former Soviet Republics: CHINA/KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan and China open a 620-mile long oil pipeline, which will provide China’s booming economy with oil from the Caspian Sea. The pipeline is the first one to surpass the Russian territory, which will give Kazakhstan significant leverage in negotiating future deals and marks Kazakhstan’s new phase as an oil exporter.

December 15 – International Organizations/Africa: UNITED NATIONS/SIERRA LEONE

The last United Nations (UN) peacekeeping troops leave Sierra Leone, bringing a five-year mission to an end. UN troops first came to Sierra Leone to end civil war and initially suffered military defeats, but after a British military intervention they continued their mission, and eventually succeeded in restoring security and democracy. The international community sees the Sierra Leone mission as a positive indication for the feasibility of peacekeeping worldwide.

December 15 – International Organizations: WTO

Tonga becomes the 150th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), hoping fuller integration with the world economy will help the country’s economic development. Critics fear that liberalization will cut off some poorer Tongans from health and education services.

December 16 – North America: UNITED STATES

The White House withdraws its opposition to Senator John McCain’s bill banning torture of suspected terrorists. McCain, once a tortured prisoner of war in Vietnam, argues that the law will aid the war on terror by improving America’s image, which has been tarnished by a number of prisoner abuse scandals. The White House was forced into a reluctant acceptance of the law in the face of overwhelming support for it in Congress.

December 18 – North America: UNITED STATES

U.S. President George W. Bush admits that he approved the clandestine monitoring of private communications within the U.S. as a response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. Operated by the National Security Agency without court approval, the program has sparked controversy between the president and Congress. Normally, a special court must provide permission for surveillance on U.S. soil. Bush condemns the disclosure of the program, which he says targets terrorists, as irresponsible.

December 18 – International Organizations: WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION

A World Trade Organization meeting ends in Hong Kong with an agreement to gradually phase out agricultural subsidies by 2013. However, members reached no accord on eliminating import tariffs or reducing U.S. domestic subsidies for cotton. Protesters made appearances throughout the six-day summit and critics say rich countries betrayed the interests of poorer countries.

December 20 – Middle East:  ISRAEL

Binyamin Netanyahu wins leadership of Israel’s right-wing Likud party. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left Likud in November to form a new centrist party, Kadima. Netanyahu had resigned from his post as finance minister to protest Sharon’s removal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu had previously served as Israel’s youngest prime minister, and was the first leader born after the creation of a Jewish state.

December 21 – Africa: TANZANIA

Jakaya Kikwete wins Tanzania’s presidential election and his Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party wins an outright majority in parliament. Kikwete will replace President Benjamin Mkapa, who steps down after two terms in office. One of Kikwete’s priorities is improving relations with the semiautonomous Zanzibar, where the opposition has significant support. The African Union’s observers endorse the election process.

December 21 – Latin America: BOLIVIA

Election officials confirm Evo Morales as the winner of Bolivia’s presidential election. The leftist candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) will be Bolivia’s first indigenous president. A former union leader and a coca farmer, Morales seeks to legalize coca leaf production, while also combating drug trafficking. Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, has had five presidents in the last four years.

December 23 – South Asia: INDIA

Eleven members of the Indian parliament are expelled after a news channel videotapes the MPs taking bribes. The parliamentarians are from different parties, including the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is said that the top party leaders addressed the allegations promptly in an effort to counter the image that India’s politicians are among the most corrupt in the world.

December 23 – Africa: NIGERIA

Nigeria pledges to make antiretroviral drugs available to HIV/AIDS patients for free in the next two weeks. A recent study by Médecins Sans Frontières shows that almost half of people on drug treatment in Nigeria cannot afford adequate doses of the medicine, which the Nigerian government receives for free but has demanded payment from patients. Nigeria has the third highest number of HIV infections in the world, estimated at four million.

December 23 – North America: UNITED STATES

The Transportation Workers’ Union ends a three-day strike in New York City, the city’s first transit walkout in twenty-five years. Almost 34,000 employees had stopped working over a dispute concerning wages, health care, and retirement. Legally, transportation workers are banned from striking, and union leaders had been threatened with fines and jail time. The strike has cost New York up to $1 billion.

December 23 – International Organizations: INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) grants US$3.3 billion in debt relief to nineteen of the world’s poorest countries, twelve of which are in Africa. While this is only a portion of the countries’ total debt, many praise the move because it frees up governments’ resources to spend on poverty, education, health, and other programs. To qualify for the debt relief, countries had to demonstrate improving budgetary policies.

December 27 – Africa/International Organizations: EGYPT/ARAB LEAGUE

The new interim parliament of the Arab League, which was created to modernize the organization, promote reform, and improve the organization’s image, holds its inaugural meeting in Cairo, Egypt. Although many are skeptical of the parliament, which currently wields very little power, the Arab League eventually aims to have an elected body similar to the European Parliament.

December 28: Europe

Europe launches the demonstrator spacecraft Giove-A, a major step towards its new satellite-navigation system, Galileo. Europe’s largest space project ever, Galileo is a global network of thirty satellites set to be launched by 2010. Giove-A will test the in-orbit technologies needed to run Galileo. A joint venture between the European Commission and the European Space Agency, the project is seen as an assertion of European independence.

December 29 – Africa: COTE D’IVOIRE

Côte d’Ivoire’s transitional government takes office with the cautiously optimistic approval of rebel forces and government officials. Earlier in the month African mediators appointed Charles Konan Banny interim prime minister, with a mandate to select a government, oversee disarmament, and organize presidential elections by October 2006. Since 2002, Ivory Coast has been split into the rebel-controlled and government areas under a fragile peace monitored by the United Nations and French peacekeepers.

December 29 – East Asia: INDONESIA

The last of 24,000 government soldiers sent to combat separatism in the Indonesian province of Aceh complete their withdrawal as part of a peace agreement with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels. The deal, reached soon after the December 2004 tsunami, calls for Acehnese to give up armed rebellion and for the Indonesian army to post only local soldiers in the province. In the last twenty-six years, more than 15,000 people have died in the Aceh conflict.

December 30 – Europe/International Organizations: POLAND/NATO

Polish NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) pilots begin patrolling the air space of the three Baltic states. Poland is the first former Warsaw Pact country to take up the rotating NATO mission and it is the first time Polish pilots will patrol air space bordering Russia. Some fear that Russia will use the opportunity to test the skills of Polish pilots. Relations between Poland and Russia have deteriorated following, among others, Poland’s support of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.

December 31 – South Asia: SRI LANKA

Sri Lankan police detain as many as 900 people suspected of having links with the Tamil Tiger rebels. The crackdown is in response to the deadliest wave of violence in Sri Lanka since the 2002 cease-fire between the Tamil Tigers and the government. The Tigers are blamed for the deaths of over forty soldiers this month. Observers fear the cease-fire may not hold much longer.