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The world in 2013

Typhoon, transition, death of a hero - 2013 in review

A boy injured by debris during Supertyphoon Haiyan - the devastation caused in the Philppines put climate change up the agenda again
A boy injured by debris during Supertyphoon Haiyan - the devastation caused in the Philppines put climate change up the agenda again Reuters/Erik De Castro

2013 was a year of popular protest, mass surveillance, mourning for a world hero and new hope for peace and reconciliation. From Bangkok to Kiev, people took to the streets demanding change, while several countries held key elections and China had its once-a-decade power transition.


Kenya held largely peaceful elections in March, but an attack in a shopping centre later in the year tragically put Nairobi back in the headlines. In the United States President Barack Obama's historic healthcare bill debuted with major website glitches, while gun legislation floundered in Congress. The year also saw the highest emissions of climate-warming gases ever after carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topped the symbolic milestone of 400 parts per million in May.

Supertyphoon Haiyan

Supertyphoon Haiyan barreled towards the Philippines on 8 November, killing thousands of people, displacing millions more and destroying vast tracts of farmland. The United Nations estimated that 11 million people were affected by the disaster – touching 10 per cent of the country's population.

A couple of weeks after the disaster the United Nations held its annual Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland. The Philippines' lead negotiator Yeb Sano made a fervent and emotional appeal to climate change deniers, calling for them to get off their “ivory towers” and go see the impact of rising sea levels in the Pacific, among other places.

New Pope

Pope Benedict XVI shocked Catholics worldwide in February, becoming the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years. One month later the world waited for white smoke to rise from the Vatican as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope Francis, bringing new hope for a refashioning of the Catholic Church and a voice for the poor.

Building collapse in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the country’s booming, but poorly regulated garment industry came under scrutiny after the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Dhaka in April. At least 1,100 people died in the rubble, prompting leading multinational brands to start implementing new monitoring systems. Eight months after the building collapse, four major retailers and labour groups have also paired up with the government to create a compensation fund worth an estimated 29 million euros to help victims’ families and injured workers. Wages in Bangladesh still remain the lowest in the region despite ongoing protesting to raise them.

Political transitions and gridlock

Iranians voted in Hassan Rouhani as president, a move to moderation after the outspoken Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was elected for a third term.

In China the country’s decennial leadership transfer put Xi Jinping in office, while rising star and former Communist Party Chief Bo Xilai was sentenced to life in jail.

In March hundreds of thousands mourned the passing of the charismatic, yet controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who ruled the country for 14 years. Nicolas Maduro – the hand-picked successor to the late leader – won a narrow victory in mid-April but has since struggled to capture the country’s imagination like his predecessor amid a collapsing economy. However, the opposition failed to turn the local elections, held at the beginning of December, into an anti-Maduro vote.

In the US Barack Obama faced hurdles at home and abroad in the first year of his second presidential term. Wrangling over the budget – and the Republican Party's drive to bring down Obama's health-care programme – shut down parts of the federal government for more than two weeks in October, costing the nation billions of dollars. Obama’s gun-control legislation also ground to a halt after losing in the Senate in April during a year characterised by partisan conflict.

NSA surveillance

At the beginning of June the Guardian and the Washington Post newspapers broke the first of many stories exposing the scale of spying at home and abroad by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The vast troves of information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sparked diplomatic spats and debates on privacy. After fleeing to Hong Kong, Snowden went to Russia, where he camped out in Moscow's airport for more than a month before being granted asylum. A White House advisory committee has since called for sweeping reforms, including having a third party keep call logs and details rather than the government, to better protect civil liberties.

Egypt's President Morsi ousted

Millions of Egyptians took to the streets in late June to protest against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whom they accused of using his political power to increase the influence of his Muslim Brotherhood party. He was eventually removed by the military on 3 July, one year after his democratic election. Morsi’s supporters called for rival protests and clashes broke out in the increasingly polarised country. Head of the army General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi banned the 85-year old Brotherhood, jailing many of its top members, and in mid-August hundreds of people died after the military carried out its threat to raid two camps of pro-Morsi protesters. Morsi's trial on charges of inciting the killing of opposition protesters is scheduled to resume in mid-January 2014.

Syria's humanitarian crisis mounts

The conflict in Syria continued to intensify and has become one of the biggest humanitarian crises in modern times.

Over 120,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, according to the United Nations. In August, the outraged rhetoric mounted after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was accused of using chemical weapons against its own people. The act crossed US President Barack Obama’s red line but an intervention failed to materialise as support in Congress for a targeted strike waned. But a diplomatic pact spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin provided some progress and Syria is set to destroy its chemical weapons cache by mid 2014.

Middle East talks

In November Iran clinched a deal with the West to roll back on part of its nuclear programme for six months in exchange for sanctions relief, while US Secretary of State John Kerry has made it his mission to see through Israel-Palestine peace talks to end the six-decade conflict. Although settlement building and other issues remain an obstacle, by the year's end Kerry was optimistic that the talks could culminate with a deal by its nine-month deadline in Spring 2014.

Rising militancy in Africa

Around the Sahara and in several African countries Islamist militancy continues to threaten security. A hostage crisis in January at an Algerian oilfield left 39 foreigners dead, while Boko Haram in Nigeria’s restive north-east region has claimed 1,200 lives since a state of emergency was announced in May. In Nairobi, Kenya, at the upscale Westgate shopping mall, members of the Somali al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shebab went on a killing spree that left at least 68 people dead in September.

DRC peace deal

In the Democratic Republic of Congo the government and M23 rebels reached a long-awaited peace deal in mid-December. The deal was hailed as an important first step in ending 20 years of strife that has killed five to six million people and unsettled the Great Lakes region.

Death of an icon

The year drew to a close with the death of one of the 20th century’s most venerated icons. Anti-apartheid hero, political prisoner and South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela died on 5 December, aged 95. At least 100,000 people saw Mandela's body in Pretoria and a state funeral drew dozens of world leaders and other dignitaries to South Africa to honour his legacy.

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