News Timeline: December 2004


December 1 – Latin America: COLOMBIA

The Colombian Congress passes a controversial bill, which allows President Alvaro Uribe to run for a second term as president. Until now, presidents in Colombia were restricted to a single four-year term. Uribe says he needs more time to implement his policies against Colombian guerrillas.

December 2 – Europe: EU/BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

The European Union starts its largest-ever peacekeeping operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, deploying about 7,000 EUFOR troops that will replace NATO troops. The EUFOR mission is considered an important moment in the development of the EU’s defense and security policy.

December 2 – International Organizations/Africa: UNITED NATIONS/BURUNDI

The Burundian government and the United Nations operation in Burundi begin a program to disarm thousands of soldiers and rebels and to form a new national army, which is expected to take up to four years. The program ends 11 years of conflict between the ethnic Hutu rebel groups and the Tutsi-dominated army.

December 3 – Former Soviet Republics/Europe: UKRAINE

Ukraine’s Supreme Court upholds the opposition’s claim that the presidential election was rigged, annuls the second round of the election, and rules that a new runoff vote must be held on December 26.

December 6 – Europe: SPAIN

Following warnings from ETA, the Basque separatist group, seven bombs explode in Spain’s urban public areas on a holiday marking the 1978 constitution. ETA opposes the constitution, and the Spanish police warned of possible attacks.

December 7 – Middle East/Europe: IRAQ/RUSSIA

Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi makes his first official visit to Russia, where he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite Putin’s criticism about holding elections in Iraq, which is under full occupation, both sides say they are interested in rebuilding their relationship. Allawi says that Russia’s decision to forgive most of Iraq’s debt from the Soviet times will make Russia a leading country in rebuilding the Iraqi economy. Iraq’s debt to Russia amounts to about $8 billion.

December 9 – International Organizations/Latin America: SOUTH AMERICAN COMMUNITY OF NATIONS

Representatives from 12 South American countries launch a new South American Community of Nations organization during a summit in the Peruvian city of Cuzco, which aims for closer political and economic integration between its members. Modeled on the European Union, the new bloc has a potential market of 361 million people with a GDP of $973 billion. Skeptics of the South American integration point to enduring political and economic disputes between the states.

December 9 – Latin America: ECUADOR

Ecuador’s Congress dismisses the entire 31-member Supreme Court with a narrow majority during a session called by President Lucio Gutierrez, who claims the court has become too politicized. The opposition, however, describes the move as dictatorial and unconstitutional.

December 9 – Middle East: IRAQ

Iraq’s majority Shia community forms a broad-based coalition of 22 political parties with 228 candidates to run in the national election in January. The coalition is supported by leading Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Also, two main Kurdish groups form a single candidate list. The minority Sunni community has not presented a list of candidates, and Sunni clerics call for Sunnis to boycott the election.


The International Rescue Committee aid agency reports that more than 1,000 people are dying daily in the Democratic Republic of Congo from easily preventable diseases and calls for an urgent increase in humanitarian aid. The situation is caused by years of war that destroyed hospitals and other health-care infrastructure.

December 10 – Africa: KENYA

Kenyan authorities begin repossessing millions of hectares of illegally seized land since the time of independence in 1963. Distribution of land to government officials and their allies was a common practice during previous administrations. Land has already been reclaimed from 60 individuals, including former President Daniel arap Moi.

December 10 – Africa: GHANA

Ghana’s president, John Kufuor, wins a second term during a peaceful and democratic presidential election, securing over 52 percent of the vote. His New Patriotic Party also gains a majority in parliament, winning 129 seats out of 230.

December 10 – East Asia: JAPAN

Japan introduces constitutional changes to ease some restrictions on its defense policy and military to allow a greater role in global military cooperation. While the new National Defense Outline reinstates the principle of the 1945 pacifist constitution, it also partially lifts arms sales bans to allow joint missile research with the U.S. and highlights Japan’s wider role in global peacekeeping missions.

December 11 – North America/South Asia: UNITED STATES/AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. military in Afghanistan opens a new offensive, known as Operation Lightning Freedom, against the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The operation is aimed at increasing security ahead of parliamentary elections planned for next spring and encouraging militants to disarm with a recent amnesty.

December 12 – East Asia: PHILIPPINES

A bomb explosion in a crowded market in the port city of General Santos on the southern tip of the Philippine island of Mindanao kills at least 14 people and injures 60. There are several militant groups active in the region, including Muslim militants from the Abu Sayyaf group, which is linked to the regional militant network, Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

December 13 – Europe: ROMANIA

Romania’s opposition leader from the Democratic Party, Traian Basescu, defeats his rival, leftist Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, in a closely fought presidential election. Basescu campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and his goal is to speed up Romania’s reforms required to enter the European Union in 2007.

December 13 – Latin America: CUBA

Cuba begins its largest military exercises in 20 years, involving hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians. The Cuban government says the exercises are in response to continued aggression and threats from the United States.

December 13 – Africa: EGYPT

Hundreds of Egyptians demonstrate in Cairo, demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 23-year presidency and opposing hereditary succession. President Mubarak is believed to be preparing his son to take over as president. The mostly silent protest is an unusual occurrence in Egypt, where public protests are banned.

December 14 – Middle East/Africa: EGYPT/ISRAEL

Egypt and Israel sign a trade protocol with the U.S., opening free access to American markets for Egyptian goods produced in partnership with Israeli companies. However, at least 35 percent of the Egyptian products must be the result of Israeli-Egyptian cooperation. The agreement is considered the most important economic deal between Egypt and Israel in 20 years.

December 14 – East Asia: CHINA

Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian resigns as chairman of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after the party’s failure to win a majority in recent parliamentary elections. The result of the elections may signify political gridlock, with the president’s proposals facing the parliament’s opposition.

December 15 – Middle East/Turkey: TURKEY/EUROPEAN UNION

The European Parliament passes a nonbinding resolution opening accession negotiations with Turkey and monitoring Turkey’s progress in improving human rights, religious freedom, and women’s rights. Turkey, for its part, says it will accept only full membership with no special conditions imposed permanently and will not be forced to extend diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Cyprus. It also says that the decision to start talks must not be conditional on later decisions by EU leaders.

December 15 – North America: UNITED STATES

A test of the U.S. multibillion-dollar antimissile defense shield fails after an interceptor missile does not take off and is automatically shut down on its launch pad in the central Pacific. The Pentagon spends $10 billion a year to develop the missile system, which was planned to start operation in 2004.

December 17 – Middle East/Europe: TURKEY/EU/CYPRUS

The European Union and Turkey reach an agreement in which Turkey agrees to recognize Cyprus by October 2005. The deal grants Greek Cyprus full recognition and gives the Turkish government more time to sell the idea to its people.

December 17 – North America/East Asia: UNITED STATES/JAPAN

Japan and the United States sign an agreement on joint cooperation in ballistic missile defense systems, which began after North Korea shot a missile over Japan in 1998. After this joint research, both countries plan to start joint production.

December 19 – Former Soviet Republics: TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan announces that almost 77 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections, choosing 50 members from among candidates who all belong to President Saparmurat Niyazov’s Democratic Party. Foreign observers were not allowed to attend the election.

December 20 – Europe: HUNGARY/EUROPEAN UNION

The Hungarian parliament ratifies the European constitution, making Hungary the second EU member to do so, following the vote in Lithuania.

December 21 – North America: UNITED STATES

Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal new evidence of serious abuses of Iraqi prisoners as well as detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The documents consist mostly of communications between FBI agents concerned about interrogation techniques they are not supposed to use during investigations.

December 21 – International Organizations/Africa: UNITED NATIONS/DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

The United Nations deploys peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of Congo to stop a fresh outbreak of violence in the eastern part of the country between government troops and pro-Rwandan rebels, who demand the government’s withdrawal from the area. The peacekeepers will set up a buffer zone between the towns of Kanyabayonga and Lubero to keep the two sides apart.

December 24 – East Asia/Latin America: CHINA/VENEZUELA

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offers China access to Venezuela’s oil fields as part of a trade deal between the two countries. The agreement will allow China to operate Venezuela’s oil fields and to invest in new refineries. Venezuela has already offered to supply 120,000 barrels of fuel oil a month to China. The move is Chavez’s attempt to diversify Venezuela’s markets and reduce its dependence on the U.S.

December 24 – North America/Latin America: PUERTO RICO

Puerto Ricans elect Anibal Acevedo Vila governor, narrowly defeating Pedro Rosselo. Vila is a member of the ruling Popular Democratic Party and opposes turning the self-governing U.S. commonwealth into a U.S. federal state.

December 26 – South Asia/East Asia

A 9.0 magnitude earthquake takes place off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean, setting off the tsunami waves that hit the coastlines of several Southeast Asian countries and east Africa 4,000 miles away. Without warning, the sea surges kill thousands of people, leave hundreds of thousands homeless, and devastate the coastal areas of Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Burma. Aceh province in Sumatra, India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the Thai vacation resort of Phuket are among the worst hit.

December 26 – Former Soviet Union/Europe: UKRAINE

Ukraine’s opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, wins the third round of the contested presidential election, which was monitored by 12,000 international observers. Yushchenko’s rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, contests the result by claiming multiple irregularities and says he will not step down from his post.

December 27 – Middle East: IRAQ

Mohsen Abdul Hamid, leader of Iraq’s main Sunni Muslim party, the Iraqi Muslim Party, says his party is withdrawing its candidacy from the January elections. He states that continuing violence prevents credible elections in six out of 18 provinces and the elections should be postponed.

December 27 – Former Soviet Republics: UZBEKISTAN

The observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say the parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan did not meet international standards, adding that they were neither competitive nor transparent. All five parties taking part in the election supported President Islam Karimov and almost two-thirds of potential candidates were not allowed to compete.


Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia agree to the construction of an oil pipeline that will transport 750,000 barrels of Russian and Caspian oil daily through the Balkan Peninsula. The 560-mile pipeline will be built by the U.S.-registered Albanian Macedonian Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO) and will extend from the Bulgarian port of Burgas, over the Black Sea, crossing Macedonia to the Albanian city of Vlore on the Adriatic coast.

December 31 – Africa: SUDAN

The Sudanese government and the southern rebels sign a permanent cease-fire agreement as part of a peace deal to end the civil conflict that started in 1983, when the Christian south demanded autonomy from the Muslim north. Both sides agree on power and wealth sharing, the formation of a decentralized administration, and a referendum on secession for the south in six years.