News Timeline: March 2004


March 1 – Europe: RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin names Mikhail Fradkov, a little-known political figure, as his new prime minister. He served twice as a foreign trade minister during the Soviet era and recently served as an envoy to the European Union.

March 2 – South Asia: PAKISTAN

At least 37 people are killed and over 100 injured during an attack on Shia Muslims celebrating the Ashura Festival in the Pakistani city of Quetta. The festival commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson. Most Pakistani Sunnis and Shias live peacefully together, but small radical groups on both sides frequently organize similar attacks.

March 2 – Middle East: IRAQ

The Iraqi Governing Council declares a three-day national mourning period following a massacre of Shias in the cities of Baghdad and Karbala. Several well-coordinated explosions aimed at mosques during a Shia holy festival kill more than 140 people and injure more than 500. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with links to al-Qaeda, is blamed for the attacks, but the top Iraqi Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, also blames the U.S. for its failure to provide security from foreign attackers.

March 2 – International Organizations/South Asia: UNITED NATIONS/AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resumes repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan after it was suspended last year due to the killing of one of the agency’s employees. UNHCR plans to return 400,000 Afghans to Afghanistan by the end of 2004 in addition to 1.9 million who returned in the past two years.

March 3 – South Asia: NEPAL

Maoist rebels attack security forces guarding a telephone tower in Nepal’s remote district of Bhojpur, killing 29 soldiers and cutting off communication links with the rest of the country. It is the fiercest rebel attack since the peace talks with the government collapsed last August.

March 5 – South Asia: SRI LANKA

Colonel Karuna, a Tamil Tiger commander in eastern Sri Lanka, breaks away to form his own organization, putting the peace process with the government in jeopardy. Colonel Karuna is upset that most of the fighters come from the east while all the top commanders come from the north of Sri Lanka.

March 5 – Latin America: BRAZIL

Rio Grande do Sul becomes the first Brazilian state to authorize same-sex marriages. The new law gives gay couples rights in areas such as inheritance, child custody, insurance benefits, and pensions.

March 5 – International Organizations/Africa: UNITED NATIONS/LIBYA

Libya destroys 3,000 unfilled chemical bombs and provides the United Nations with a full report on its chemical weapons program, which includes 20 tons of deadly mustard gas and other chemicals used to make nerve gas. The report is a major step toward destroying Libya’s weapons of mass destruction.

March 6 – Latin America: VENEZUELA

Tens of thousands of protesters march through Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, demanding a referendum on President Hugo Chavez’s rule. The new protests erupt after the electoral college refuses to validate hundreds of thousands of signatures collected by the opposition. At least eight protesters have been killed in recent rallies.

March 6 – Middle East: TURKEY

About 80,000 people rally in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, against government plans to decentralize the country’s administration and give more decision-making authority to local government. Opponents fear that this would cut jobs and politicize the civil service.

March 7 – Africa: LIBYA

Libya sends all of its known remaining nuclear equipment to the U.S. as part of a disarmament agreement. The final shipment includes centrifuge parts used to enrich uranium, equipment from Libya’s uranium conversion facility, and all long-range missiles and launchers.

March 8 – Middle East: IRAQ

Iraq’s Governing Council signs an interim constitution, which will come into effect after the transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqis at the end of June. The document proposes a troika made up of a president and two vice presidents. It has an extensive bill of rights, enshrines Islam as the official religion, and guarantees a quarter of the seats in the parliament for women. The new constitution is said to be progressive by Middle Eastern standards.

March 8 – Europe: CROATIA

Two retired Croatian generals, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, agree to surrender to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. They are indicted for atrocities committed against Croatian Serbs during the 1995 war. Both generals deny any wrongdoing. The government’s cooperation with the tribunal is a main condition for Croatia’s ability to open accession talks with the European Union next year.

March 8 – Europe: AUSTRIA

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party makes a comeback, winning 42.4 percent of the vote in the Alpine province of Carinthia. As a result, the party leader, Joerg Haider, will remain governor of the province. The victory is unexpected because nationwide support for the Freedom Party has declined since it entered government four years ago.

March 8 – Latin America: HAITI

Haiti’s supreme court formally appoints its chief, Boniface Alexandre, as interim president. He replaces deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled with his family to the Central African Republic. Aristide says he is a victim of a coup d’etat and accuses the United States and France of forcing him into exile.

March 9 – Europe: RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin forms a new cabinet after dismissing the previous one in order to get rid of Yeltsin-era Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. He lowers the number of ministerial appointments from 30 to 17 and reappoints some of the previous reformers, such as Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Economic Development Minister German Gref.

March 10 – Latin America/International Organizations: ARGENTINA/IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approves the latest disbursement of $13.3 billion to Argentina after the country meets a deadline for repayment of its outstanding debt to the IMF, equal to $3.15 billion. In order to obtain the new funds, Argentina had to sign a new program of action, which includes negotiations with private foreign creditors who have received no payment from Argentina in over two years.

March 10 – North America: UNITED STATES

The research report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that obesity is soon expected to overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of death in the United States. Two-thirds of U.S. adults and nine million children are either overweight or obese, which, according to the study, is a result of a fast-food lifestyle, increased use of computers, and lack of exercise.

March 11 – Europe: SPAIN

Three powerful bomb explosions on commuter trains in Spain’s capital, Madrid, during rush hour kill more than 200 people and injure over 1,000. No group claims responsibility, but the Spanish government blames the Basque separatist group, ETA. Basque regional Prime Minister Juan Jose Ibarretxe condemns the attacks and urges caution in blaming the Basque group.

March 12 – East Asia: SOUTH KOREA

South Korea’s parliament impeaches President Roh Moo-hyun for endorsing a pro-government party and for incompetence. The ruling suspends the president’s power until a Constitutional Court review. The impeachment is a culmination of a power struggle between the president and the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

March 12 – South Asia: NEPAL

Thousands of demonstrators rally across Nepal in escalating protests against King Gyanendra. An alliance of five political parties demands that the king restore the parliament, which was dissolved in 2002.

March 14 – Europe: SPAIN

Spain’s socialists win 42 percent of the vote in national elections, ousting the conservative prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, whose government was widely criticized for its handling of the Madrid bombings. New Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero calls for international allegiance against terrorism and the end of U.S. unilateralism. He also warns he will withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq unless the UN takes charge.

March 14 – Europe: RUSSIA

Vladimir Putin wins Russia’s presidential election, securing 71.2 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, communist candidate Nikolai Kharitonov, wins 13.7 percent. International observers criticize the election as failing to meet democratic standards. The chief observer, Julian Peel Yates, says the election lacked vibrant political discourse and meaningful pluralism, and the candidates did not have access to the state media.

March 15 – Middle East: ISRAEL

Israel’s parliament narrowly approves Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposal to disengage from political negotiations with the Palestinians and withdraw Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip. In a speech to the Knesset, Ariel Sharon says that the Ashdod port suicide attack a couple of days earlier proves that Palestinian leaders are unable to tackle terrorism.

March 16 – Middle East: SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia’s authorities arrest five of the country’s prominent reformists who signed a petition calling for political and economic reforms. The arrests include a publisher, Mohammed Said Tayib, two academics, Matrouq al-Faleh and Khalid al-Hameed, and two Islamists, Abdullah al-Hamid and Tawfiq al-Qaseer. The arrests are seen as a warning to deter liberals.

March 16 – North America/South Asia: UNITED STATES/AFGHANISTAN

Twenty-three Afghans released from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba accuse the U.S. of abuse. Many of the former prisoners, who spent two years in custody, say U.S. forces tortured them physically and mentally and disrespected their religion. There are still about 600 detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

March 18 – South Asia/North America: PAKISTAN/UNITED STATES

During a visit in Pakistan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States is going to elevate military ties with Pakistan, making it a main ally outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The move is a reward for Pakistan’s staunch support of the U.S. in the war on terrorism and military actions against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.


Crowds of angry Albanian protesters in Serbia and Montenegro’s province of Kosovo burn Serbian Orthodox churches and homes during a second day of violence, the worst since the 1999 Kosovo war. The protests started after the deaths of two Albanian children were blamed on Serbs. At least 31 people have died and about 500 have been injured. NATO announces it will reinforce its 18,500 troops in Kosovo.

March 19 – International Organizations/East Asia: UNITED NATIONS/MYANMAR

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) distributes food to around 400 families in Myanmar who are affected by HIV/AIDS. Myanmar is believed to have one of the highest rates of HIV in Asia, with half a million people infected.

March 22 – Latin America: EL SALVADOR

El Salvador’s rightwing party wins national elections for the fourth time in a row after a bitter campaign, which reopened old divisions over the country’s civil war. Tony Saca becomes El Salvador’s new leader.

March 22 – Latin America/North America: COLOMBIA/UNITED STATES

Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, visits the United States for talks on a bilateral free-trade agreement and to lobby for more military aid. In the past five years, Colombia received over $3 billion in U.S. aid, which makes it the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel and Egypt.

March 22 – Middle East: LEBANON/ISRAEL

Members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah fire rockets and mortars at Israeli troops in the Shebaa Farms area in the disputed border territory as a response to the killing by Israelis of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israel responds with an air raid on the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Kfarshuba.

March 23 – Latin America: ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA

The opposition United Progressive Party wins the general election in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, defeating Prime Minister Lester Bird and his Antigua Labor Party, which has been in power since the 1950s. New Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer vows to fight corruption, which has plagued the country.

March 25 – International Organizations/North America: UNITED NATIONS/UNITED STATES

The United States introduces a resolution at the United Nations aimed at preventing terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. The draft resolution calls on states to pass and enforce laws preventing unauthorized individuals and groups from developing such weapons. The states would also be accountable for all items, responsible for effective border controls, and would cooperate to prevent illegal trafficking.

March 26 – North America/Middle East: UNITED STATES/IRAQ

U.S. troops clash with Iraqi insurgents in the town of Falluja, which is located within the Sunni Triangle, the traditional power base of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. At least eight people are killed and 25 injured in heavy fighting.

March 26 – South Asia/North America: AFGHANISTAN/UNITED STATES

The United States reinforces its 12,000 troops in Afghanistan with another 2,000 marines in order to intensify the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Together with Pakistani forces, the U.S. military is pursuing them in the tribal areas on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where the bin Laden fighters are believed to be hiding.

March 27 – East Asia: TAIWAN

Taiwan’s opposition files a lawsuit in the country’s supreme court demanding a recount of the votes from the country’s presidential election and an inquiry into the shooting of President Chen Shui-bian. The president was reelected by less than 30,000 votes and the opposition says he won a sympathy vote.

March 27 – International Organizations/Middle East: INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY/IRAN

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) returns to Iran to conduct inspections of the country’s nuclear facilities. They are scheduled to visit a gas centrifuge enrichment facility at Natanz and the Isfahan nuclear research center, where they will look for evidence that Iran has been trying to develop nuclear weapons.

March 29 – Russia and Other Former Soviet Republics: GEORGIA

Early results of Georgia’s legislative elections show a landslide victory for President Mikhail Saakashvili’s National Movement-Democratic Front party, which wins 78.6 percent of the vote and takes all the seats in parliament. The result creates fears that Georgia could become a one-party state.

March 29 – International Organizations/Europe: NATO/EUROPE

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) celebrates the inclusion of seven new members, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The enlargement brings the number of NATO members to 26 and extends the alliance into the territory of the former Soviet Union and to the border with Russia.

March 31 – South Asia: PAKISTAN

The Pakistan People’s Party introduces a divisive bill on women’s rights before Pakistan’s National Assembly. The bill seeks to abolish the social custom of honor killings, which involves killing women who marry outside a tribe or clan, as well as the Hudood ordinance, which does not separate rape from adultery. Conservatives say the laws should not be abolished because they were made in the name of Islam. The bill has caused a split in the opposition and government parties, and has divided the president from the prime minister.