The year 2011 rocked the headlines with stories that will forever change the course of history. Here are the top world news stories in this busy news year.
How can this not be the most impactful, most astounding news story of the year? As the Middle East rang in 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old street vendor, lay in a hospital bed in Tunisia, with burns over 90 percent of his body, suffered in a Dec. 17, 2010, self-immolation protest over harassment he received from police. Bouazizi died on Jan. 4, the Tunisian people protested, and 10 days later President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose authoritarian rule dated back to a 1987 coup, fled the country. Peaceful protests began in Egypt on Jan. 25, as citizens from all walks of life filled Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down from power. By Feb. 11, Mubarak's 30-year rule was over. By fall, Libya was free. And endings still have yet to be written in the Yemen and Syria uprisings against authoritarian rule.
Nearly a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and nearly as long into the war in Afghanistan intended to end the country's status as a safe haven for al-Qaeda, terror leader Osama bin Laden was discovered in his hideout in neighboring Pakistan and shot to death by a Navy SEAL team on May 4. Far from hiding in a dusty cave, bin Laden was holed up in a three-story fortress Abbottabad, a town about 35 miles north of Islamabad, a well-to-do area that is home to many retired Pakistani military officials. The late-night news sparked impromptu street celebrations in New York and Washington, and U.S. officials quickly disposed of the al-Qaeda leader's remains at sea. Bin Laden's longtime right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, took the reins of the terrorist organization.
As if a magnitude 9.0 earthquake wasn't devastating enough, this year Japan weathered a triple blow stemming from the temblor that struck off the coast of Tohoku on March 11. The quake triggered deadly tsunami waves that were as high as 133 feet tall and reached 6 miles inland at some points. Reeling from a death toll of nearly 16,000 (with thousands missing), the Japanese people had to weather yet another subsequent crisis: the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex was damaged and leaking radiation, and other reactors were damaged as well. This resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents from the affected areas. It also sparked a worldwide debate about the safety of nuclear power, and Germany vowed to phase out all of its nuclear reactors by 2022. "We want the electricity of the future to be safer and, at the same time, reliable and economical," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Greece is on the brink of meltdown due to spiraling debt, and the deficit crisis is continentally contagious. Last year, the International Monetary Fund bailed out Greece to the tune of 110 billion euros, contingent on the implementation of strict austerity measures. On the heels of this dramatic action came bailout packages for Ireland and Portugal. And the Greek tragedy is far from over as the debate over whether to accept debt-forgiveness conditions upended the government in Athens. Furthermore, other debt-laden European nations risk going under. This year's euro crisis saw the downfall of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, and continued huddles by other European leaders over how - and whether - the euro can be saved.
Moammar Gadhafi had been the dictator of Libya since 1969 and the third-longest serving world ruler when he went on the run in the midst of a bloody, determined rebel uprising in 2011. He was known as being one of the most eccentric world rulers, from his days of sponsoring terrorism to recent years when he tried to make nice with the world and be seen as a wise problem-solver. He was also a brutal tyrant leading a country where the slightest dissent or free expression was not tolerated. On Oct. 20, Gadhafi was killed in his hometown, Sirte, and his bloody body paraded by rebel fighters on video.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack, according to officials in the North, while traveling on a train on Dec. 17. There had been rumors for years about the state of his health, and even at times about whether or not he was alive, and Kim began succession arrangements to have his third and youngest son, Kim Jong Un, take power upon his death. The twentysomething heir will inherit a country that is poor and starving, while enjoying the benefits of his family's wealth. This unpredictable successor also inherits a nuclear standoff with the west, and on the day his father's death was announced North Korea reportedly test-fired a short-range missile.
The United Nations estimated that at least 12 million people have been affected by the 2011 drought and famine across Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. In Somalia the crisis was particularly dire as areas controlled by the militant group Al-Shabaab were not able to receive humanitarian aid, leading to tens of thousands of starvation deaths. In mid-November, the UN's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit had removed three of Somalia's worst-stricken zones from famine designations. But three other areas, including the capital Mogadishu, remained famine zones, and the UN warned that a quarter of a million people still face imminent starvation. More than $1 billion in international donations will be needed in 2012 to sustain the region. Tens of thousands have died not only from starvation but from continued outbreaks of measles, cholera, and malaria.
In a year of death and drama, there was a bit of good news that sent viewers around the world flocking to their TV sets. On April 29, 2011, Prince William and Kate Middleton said their vows in Westminster Abbey before an estimated television audience of two billion people worldwide. More than just another young couple setting off on life's journey together, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hold the hopes of those who believe that they can revive the British monarchy from years of scandal and lagging popularity.
The world was on edge watching the news unfold, anxious over whether a brazen terror attack was unfolding in Scandinavia. A right-wing extremist detonated a powerful bomb outside the prime minister's headquarters in Oslo, Norway, on July 22, 2011, killing eight, and then two hours later killed 69, many youths, gathered for a Labor Party summer camp on Utoya island. Anders Behring Breivik said in a 1,500-page manifesto posted online shortly before the attacks that he wanted to start a revolution against, among other things, liberal immigration policies that have increased Muslim populations across Europe. Court psychiatrists diagnosed Breivik with paranoid schizophrenia and found him to be criminally insane.
The News of the World published its last issue on July 10 with a eulogy proclaiming "The world's greatest newspaper 1843-2011" and a collection of some of the tabloid's most famous covers. What brought down one of the oldest jewels in Rupert Murdoch's media empire? Sketchy tactics by the British tabloids are nothing new, but the public outcry over revelations that News International staff had hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl sent Murdoch into damage-control mode. The scandal not only shook up British journalism, but resulted in U.S. authorities launching an investigation in News Corporation.