News Timeline: May 2004


May 1 – Europe: EU

Europe celebrates the inclusion of 10 new countries into the European Union: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia, which marks the biggest enlargement in the history of the EU. Now the EU of 25 nations is the world’s largest trading bloc and has a combined population of 455 million.

May 2 – Europe: POLAND

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller resigns as his government’s popularity declines significantly due to continuing economic difficulties and corruption scandals. President Aleksander Kwasniewski designates former Finance Minister Marek Belka to take the post of prime minister.

May 3 – Latin America: PANAMA

A former dictator’s son, Martin Torrijos, wins Panama’s presidential election, replacing President Mireya Moscoso, who is concluding her one five-year term, the maximum allowed under the country’s constitution. The election is seen as free and fair, with the participation of 80 percent of eligible voters.

May 3 – Middle East: ISRAEL

Israel’s governing Likud Party rejects Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip. The outcome of the vote is a major setback for Sharon. He says he will respect the party’s decision, but is not ready to abandon his project.

May 3 – North America: UNITED STATES

The U.S. military files charges against six soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Also, military authorities reprimand six senior U.S. officers, including Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was responsible for supervising the prison.

May 4 – North America: UNITED STATES

About 50 former U.S. diplomats sign a letter to President George W. Bush criticizing current American policies in the Middle East, which damage U.S. credibility and prestige. They condemn the administration’s unabashed support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his policies toward the Palestinian occupied territories.

May 5 – North America: UNITED STATES

U.S. President George W. Bush asks Congress for an additional $25 billion, on top of the previous $160 billion already allocated, to cover the surging costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House also says the money is needed to maintain 135,000 troops in Iraq, who are not going to be reduced and are expected to stay there until 2006.

May 5 – East Asia: INDONESIA

Indonesia announces the official results of last month’s elections. The Golkar Party of former President Suharto took 21.6 percent, winning over President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which won 18.5 percent. The results indicate people’s disappointment with Megawati’s government and might damage her chances for re-election in July.

May 6 – Africa: LIBYA

A Libyan court sentences five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death by firing squad for deliberately causing the deaths of 40 children and infecting 400 people with HIV. They worked at a children’s hospital in Benghazi and were arrested five years ago. Bulgaria’s government calls the verdict unfair and absurd. The international community calls on Libya to revise the verdict.

May 6 – Former Soviet Republics: GEORGIA

After a month-long confrontation between Georgia and its autonomous region of Ajaria and two nights of protests by hundreds of Ajaria’s residents, the region’s leader, Aslan Abashidze, steps down and flies into exile in Russia. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili announces that a new leader of the region will be chosen in elections next month.

May 7 – South Asia: NEPAL

Nepal’s prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa, steps down amid massive demonstrations by the opposition demanding dismissal of the government. King Gyanendra appointed Thapa 11 months ago after dissolving the parliament and assuming executive powers.

May 9 – Europe: RUSSIA

Chechen rebels assassinate the Moscow-backed president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, by planting a bomb under his seat in a VIP area of the crowded Dynamo stadium during celebrations marking Russia’s victory in World War II. Kadyrov’s death is seen as a setback to Russia’s attempts at bringing stability into the Chechen republic. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, vows to bring 1,000 additional troops to Chechnya.

May 10 – Middle East: IRAQ

U.S. forces destroy a stronghold of the Iraqi radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr in Baghdad, killing 35 militants. At the same time, after a month of fighting, a convoy of U.S. Marines enters the volatile city of Falluja as a part of the cease-fire agreement with the insurgents.

May 10 – North America/Africa: UNITED STATES/ANGOLA

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos arrives in the United States for talks, which will focus on oil and the Angolan elections. Angola has one of the largest oil reserves in Africa and the U.S. is interested in limiting its reliance on oil from the Middle East. It is suspected, however, that dos Santos wants the U.S. to endorse the extension of his 25-year rule in exchange for a promise for more transparency in the country’s oil industry.

May 11 – North America/Middle East: UNITED STATES/IRAQ

An American contractor in Ira q, Nicholas Berg, is beheaded by al-Qaeda suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who says the execution avenges the abuses of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison by U.S. forces. Al-Zarqawi offered to exchange Berg for the Iraqi prisoners, but the coalition forces turned it down. The videotaped graphic images of the killing spark widespread shock and outrage around the world.

May 11 – Middle East/North America: SYRIA/UNITED STATES

The United States imposes economic sanctions on Syria after accusing it of sponsoring terrorism and failing to stop militants from entering Iraq. The sanctions include a ban on flights between Syria and the U.S.; a ban on all American exports, except for humanitarian items; and a freeze on certain Syrian assets in the U.S.

May 11 – Africa: MALAWI

Malawi’s government announces a $196 million new program to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to all people with AIDS. Malawi estimates that 14 percent of its population is HIV positive. Critics accuse the government of politicizing the issue because it is announcing the new program just weeks before the presidential election.

May 13 – South Asia: INDIA

India’s opposition Congress Party wins a surprising victory in the general elections, defeating the ruling BJP-led alliance of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP called the elections early, hoping to capitalize on the economic boom and improved relations with Pakistan. It was unable, however, to gain the support of the poorer voters.

May 13 – North America: CANADA

The Canadian government reveals plans to clean up the country’s most hazardous toxic waste dump, the 81-acre site in Sydney, Nova Scotia, located at the eastern end of the country, which contains 700,000 tons of chemicals. Specialists say it will take 10 years and $288 million to decontaminate the region polluted by 90 years of steel production.

May 14 – Latin America: CUBA

Cuban President Fidel Castro leads a tens-of-thousands-strong rally through the streets of Cuba’s capital, Havana, protesting against U.S. President George W. Bush’s tougher sanctions recently imposed on Cuba. Castro makes a speech, vowing to prevent Cuba from becoming a “U.S. neocolony.”

May 16 – Latin America: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez defeats incumbent President Hipolito Mejia, winning 51 percent of the votes in the presidential election. The poor state of the country’s economy, including rampant inflation and high unemployment, is the main factor behind the voters’ decision.

May 18 – East Asia: TAIWAN

Taiwanese officials end a recount of the contested presidential election, in which President Chen Shui-bian won by less than 30,000 votes. Over 1,000 judges and officials, who examined every one of the 13 million votes cast in March, uncovered nearly 40,000 disputed votes. Most of these votes, however, belong to President Chen, which makes it unlikely for the election result to be overturned.

May 18 – East Asia/Former Soviet Republics: CHINA/KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan and China sign an agreement to build a 770-mile-long oil pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Chinese border. Kazakhstan is looking for new markets to expand production of its vast oil reserves and China needs new energy sources. China is also interested in developing economic ties with the other countries of Central Asia.

May 19 – Africa: COTE D’IVOIRE

Côte d’Ivoire’s main rebel group, the New Forces Movement, withdraws its ministers from the power-sharing government after President Laurent Gbagbo imposes sanctions on them as a punishment for boycotting cabinet meetings. The former rebel group and main opposition party, the Rally of the Republicans, and the former ruling party, the Democratic Party, also recently pulled out of the government.

May 21 – Africa: BURUNDI

The United Nations Security Council votes unanimously to send peacekeeping troops to Burundi to enforce cease-fire agreements, investigate violations, monitor the illegal flow of weapons, and carry out the demobilization of rebels. The 10-year Burundi civil war started in 1993 after Tutsi militants killed the democratically elected Hutu president.

May 22 – South Asia: INDIA

India swears in its first non-Hindu prime minister, a Sikh, Manmohan Singh, to lead the Congress Party’s coalition government after eight years in the opposition. Singh, a respected economist, became the favored choice after the party’s leader, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, turned down the post.

May 25 – Africa: AFRICAN UNION

African leaders launch the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, whose goal is to deal with wars between nations and within nations on the African continent. The council will also work to achieve a common defense policy and develop a united defense force. The council’s greatest challenge will be the large number and scale of conflicts.

May 27 – Africa: SUDAN

The Sudanese Islamic government and southern Christian rebels sign a final peace deal, bringing hopes for an end to the country’s 21-year civil war. The agreement solves the disputes in three contested areas, including the oil-rich Abyei, and establishes power-sharing. However, the deal does not include the conflict in the western region of Darfur.


Two weeks of torrential rain that created devastating mudslides and landslides in Haiti and the Dominican Republic cause the deaths of at least 860 people. Emergency workers and rescue teams are trying to find the missing, bury the dead to prevent an outbreak of disease, and supply the survivors with food and first-aid kits.

May 27 – Europe/North America: RUSSIA/UNITED STATES

The United States and Russia sign an agreement aimed at reducing the possibility of terrorists acquiring nuclear materials. The U.S. will pay more than $100 million to recover highly enriched uranium from 24 research reactors in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and southeastern Asia and transport it back to Russia for storage. The U.S. has been concerned about the research reactors because of poor maintenance and inadequate security.

May 28 – Middle East: IRAQ

New clashes between insurgents and coalition forces break out in the Iraqi city of Kufa, just 24 hours after a cease-fire agreement with the militia of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr in the holy city of Najaf. Sadr’s militia offered to withdraw from Najaf and Kufa if U.S. forces also withdraw.

May 29 – Europe/Latin America: EUROPEAN UNION/LATIN AMERICA

A summit of the European Union and Latin American leaders, held in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, ends with violent clashes between rioters who rallied for fair trade and against poverty. The summit reaches only a limited agreement on trade reform, with the EU cautiously agreeing to the G20 group proposal for agricultural tariff cuts. In foreign policy, however, the 58 leaders unanimously agree to urge the U.S. to seek greater UN involvement in Iraq.

May 29 – South Asia: PAKISTAN/INDIA

Pakistan successfully tests the Haft V medium-range missile, which has a maximum range of 932 miles and is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Pakistani government says its weapons program is a response to a similar program in India. It also says that India has been notified about the test.

May 31 – South Asia: PAKISTAN

Pakistani authorities impose economic sanctions on tribal areas in South Waziristan and arrest 60 people after the local tribesmen refuse to hand over or register hundreds of foreign Islamic militants hiding in the region. Thousands of shops are shut down and armed police patrol the area.

May 31 – International Organizations/Middle East: UNITED NATIONS/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees launches an appeal for financial aid for the people in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. The city was destroyed by the recent Israeli raids. As a result of the raids, 760 families have been left destitute. The agency says almost $16 million is needed to repair the damage.