January 1 — Europe/Former Soviet Republics: RUSSIA/UKRAINE/EUROPEAN UNION
Russia stops gas supplies to Ukraine after talks on a new contract reach impasse over gas prices and Ukraine’s unpaid bills. Both Russia and Ukraine assure that the supplies of gas to Europe will not be disrupted. Europe imports more than 40 percent of its gas from Russia, which most of it is transported through the Ukrainian territory. (January 7): Russia halts all gas supplies through Ukraine, accusing the country of siphoning gas meant for Europe. The move causes unease in many European countries, especially in those that import more than 80 percent of their gas from Russia. (January 14): The European Union threatens Russian and Ukrainian gas companies with legal action if they do not restore gas supplies soon. Some European countries, such as Bulgaria, have been hit hard by shortages of gas in one of the coldest winters, closing schools and other public buildings. (January 19): Russia and Ukraine sign a 10-year gas deal, bringing the dispute to an end. The incident, however, has undermined Russia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of gas.
January 2 — South Asia: SRI LANKA
The Sri Lankan army captures the Tamil Tiger rebels’ main base in Kilinochchi. It is a major blow to the rebels who held Kilinochchi for the last decade and turned it into their administrative headquarters. (January 8): The Sri Lankan troops take the rebels’ bases at Pallai and Sorampattu. (January 9): The army captures Elephant Pass, the causeway of strategic importance that controls access from the Jaffna Peninsula to the Sri Lankan mainland. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa says that the army’s advances completely dislodged the rebels. (January 25): The army takes the rebels’ last major base in Mullaitivu, which, with its surrounding areas, was the center of the Tamil Tigers’ military power. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in recent fighting and about 250,000 trapped in the areas held by the rebels.
January 3 — Africa: GHANA
Ghana’s opposition leader, John Atta Mills, narrowly wins the second round of the elections and becomes the country’s next president. The elections were fair and free, showcasing Ghana as one of the few functioning democracies in Africa.
January 4 — Middle East: ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
After more than a week of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, Israel sends ground troops in an attempt to permanently stop rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Hamas’ objective, on the other hand, is to make Israel lift the blockade on Gaza. (January 18): Israel and Hamas agree to a temporary ceasefire. The agreement, however, does not mention the reopening of the Gaza crossings, which are controlled by Israel. (January 21): Israel withdraws all of its troops from the Gaza Strip, stationing them, however, near the border. More than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have been killed as a result of the recent clashes. The Gaza infrastructure has been severely damaged, with more than 4,000 buildings destroyed, leaving 50,000 Gazans homeless.
January 9 — North America: UNITED STATES
The United States registers the loss of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, the highest since World War II. At the same time, the number of part-time jobs increases to 8 million. The unemployment rate soars to 7.2 percent. Some economists point out that if part-time workers and those who stopped looking for jobs are included the unemployment rate amounts to 14 percent.
January 14 — Europe: LATVIA
Hundreds of anti-government protesters clash with police in Latvia’s capital, Riga. Demonstrators demand new elections, blaming the government for mishandling the financial crisis, rising unemployment, and taxes.
January 19 — Europe: RUSSIA
Russia’s prominent human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and a young journalist Anastasia Baburova are gunned down in the center of Moscow. Markelov was known for taking high-profile human rights cases. Right before his murder, Markelov held a press conference where he announced his intent to appeal Colonel Budanov’s early release from prison who murdered a teenage Chechen girl.
January 20 — Europe: ICELAND
Iceland announces that its economy is expected to contract by almost 10 percent this year and no growth is expected in 2010. (January 21): About 2,000 protesters angry at the country’s financial crisis and rising unemployment demand the government to step down. (January 23): Prime Minister Geir Haarde calls for parliamentary elections to be held on May 9, two years early. (January 26): Iceland’s conservative government resigns after unsuccessful talks with the coalition partner.
January 23 — North America: UNITED STATES
U.S. President Barack Obama appoints two special envoys. Former Senator George Mitchell, who negotiated peace agreement in Northern Ireland, is put in charge of advancing the Middle East peace process. John Holbrooke, who brokered the deal to end the war in former Yugoslavia, is put in charge of coordinating the U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the course of American history, special envoys have worked to advance U.S. foreign policy.
January 25 — Latin America: EL SALVADOR
In El Salvador’s parliamentary elections, former rebel movement, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), becomes the country’s largest political party and wins a majority of seats in the parliament. FMLN was founded by El Salvador’s left wing rebels who fought against the U.S.-supported government in the country’s civil war in the 1980s.
January 25 — Africa: ETHIOPIA/SOMALIA
Ethiopia completes the withdrawal of its troops from Somalia, where they assisted the Somali interim government based in the town of Baidoa. The Ethiopian troops are replaced with about 3,400 African Union peacekeepers.
January 26 — South America: BOLIVIA
Sixty-one percent of Bolivians approve a new constitution in a referendum. The new constitution allows a president to run for a second term, gives indigenous people more rights, and provides for land reform by limiting the size of land ownership.
January 28 — International Organizations: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
More than 2,000 political and business leaders from 91 countries, including heads of state or government, arrive in Davos, Switzerland for the annual five-day conference of the World Economic Forum. (February 1): The Forum ends. The participants have discussed many problems, such as the global financial crisis, the rise of emerging powers, and the threat of protectionism; however, they have not suggested any solutions.
January 28 — International Organizations: WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
Tens of thousands of activists gather in Belem, Brazil for the 9th World Social Forum with a theme “another world is possible.” The timing of the event is purposely made to coincide with the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos to present an alternative view.
January 29 — North America: UNITED STATES
The United States carmaker Ford reports that 2008 was the year of the company’s biggest losses ever, amounting to almost $15 billion. Although the U.S. government has granted Ford emergency loans, the company is hoping to deal with the recession on its own.