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Top 10 Stories to Watch in 2013

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2012 had some unforgettable headlines with stories ranging from massacres to the re-election of a president. But what are the stories to watch going into 2013? Here are some to keep an eye on in the new year.

Syria: Assad's End?

(Photo by Carlos Alvarez /Getty Images)
Could this be the year that Bashar al-Assad's tyrannical grip on Syria ends? And will the world community lend a hand to the Syrians who have been protesting, fighting back, and dying by the tends of thousands since the uprising began in March 2011? With the world barely taking notice, the death toll easily passed 60,000, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, warned 100,000 Syrians could die in this humanitarian disaster with the new year. And Assad began the new year with his first appearance in several months, telling an opera hall of supporters that he'll continue to meet any challenge to his rule with a bloody response. Controlling less and less area in his country, though, and pretty much confined to his palace, Assad may find that there's nowhere to go except out.

Women's Rights

(Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)
You can bank on the fact that Saudi women are going to continue to get behind the wheel, the outcry against rape in India will only get louder, and Malala Yousafzai is going to continue to fight for girls' education in Pakistan. 2013 began on a positive note for Saudi women when King Abdullah announced that, effective immediately, the country’s 150-member Shura Council would be 20 percent women. Still, women across the world face challenges that will likely see movement in the year ahead.

Iran and the Red Line

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
On Sept. 27, 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the most memorable address of the 67th UN General Assembly when he pulled out a cartoon bomb drawing and red marker to show Iran's nuclear progress and make the case for where the world community should draw a red line. The International Atomic Energy Agency said at the beginning of 2013 that "the outlook is not bright" in negotiations to get access to inspect Iran's nuclear facilities. With President Obama picking Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense, Washington is signaling that this is not a fight it wants to pick. Israel is determined to keep Iran from reaching nuclear capability. Who makes the next move?

Presidential Transitions

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Taking control in Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to retool Felipe Calderon's six-year bloody war on drug cartels, criticizing the strategy of going after and dismantling the main cartels and promising to pour security resources into the towns where citizens have been most affected by the cartel violence. But he faces an extremely challenging task. The U.S. even has Mexico under a travel warning because of the "violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity." More than 50,000 have been killed in the violence since 2006. Peña Nieto also faces the task of dealing with his northern neighbor on everything from immigration to trade, as well as growing Mexico's economy -- particularly as fewer Mexicans have been coming north to seek employment in the job-stagnant United States. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is fighting for his life in a battle with cancer. Will he be succeeded by a Chavista or will Chavez's longtime Democratic opposition be able to turn the country around?

Al-Qaeda in Africa

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
In 2012, a military coup deposed Mali’s government, leaving the country split by ethic fighting and an area the size of Texas under control of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. U.S. Africa Command has noted that AQIM was inviting terror groups Boko Haram of Nigeria and Somalia’s al-Shabaab to come hang, train, and join forces in this haven of plenty. And French President Francois Hollande has given in to Mali's plea to send troops to its former colony to help drive back the terrorists. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said at the end of 2012 he expects no military intervention before at least September or October of 2013. “It won’t be a peace operation,” Ladsous told a conference in Paris. “It will be a war operation and that poses difficulties to the UN’s way of thinking.”

North Korea Tests the Boundaries

Here comes the son! Kim Jong-un has been the "Great Successor" to "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il for a little over a year now, and it's time to prove his stuff in terms of rankling those on the world stage. He marked his one-year anniversary with a satellite launch that foes branded as a test of banned ballistic missile technology. The impoverished communist nation is reportedly aiming to start the new year with its third nuclear test, following the acts in 2006 and 2009 that sparked global anger and concern. How far will little Kim go to assert his rule and make a name for his reign?

Afghanistan Transition

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Just 10 days from beginning his second term in office, President Obama announced an accelerated withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan — with President Hamid Karzai at his side. The White House said the progress of the Afghan National Security Forces gave reason to reconsider the timeline: In February, officials said, Afghan forces are expected to control 90 percent of security operations. Reaction over "green-on-blue" violence, with Afghans turning on their coalition trainers, has dampened the will in Washington to stay in the country much longer. With a target of a 2014 withdrawal, are Afghanistan forces prepared to withstand another takeover attempt by the Taliban?

After the Arab Spring

(Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
Islamists hurriedly pushed out Egypt's new constitution -- but if they'd hoped that would stem the protests over President Mohamed Morsi's power grab, they were very mistaken. So soon after winning their freedom from the long autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians learned that their Tahrir Square battle had just begun. On Dec. 26, despite protests that democracy was not being favored in post-Arab Spring Egypt, Morsi signed into law the new constitution. It was drafted without the participation of opposition and minority groups, and was put to a referendum just days before. It passed by 64 percent, but wide boycotts resulted in just a third of the electorate voting. And Egypt's not the only Arab Spring country with more revolution on the horizon: How will Libya pull a democratic nation together as militant groups jockey for control? When will Assad finally fall in Syria? Are other nations prime for change?

Growing Divide in the U.S.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Whether over presidential politics or gun control, partisans in the American electorate are more sharply divided than ever, demanding their representatives don't compromise in Washington and even talking about breaking into a third party (which hasn't yet been viable in the modern age, though the Libertarian Party did better than ever in 2012 presidential elections). With myriad critical issues facing the superpower from the economy and debt to foreign policy, will the split just continue to grow larger? And what will that mean for the future of the United States?

South Sudan

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Though territorial disputes remain in Abyei and South Kordofan, questions remain about shared oil revenue from the mineral-rich south, and various tribal factions are in a tug-of-war over representation, South Sudan formally declared independence on July 9, 2011. Despite years of interethnic squabbles and Sudan’s bitterness that the south got the good oil fields, a conflict here could be a much greater ideological showdown in North Africa. Catholic President Salva Kiir may face not just internationally wanted man Omar al-Bashir, but Islamist terror groups happy to fight for the cause (and shelter, as bin Laden did in the 1990s).
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