The year of al­most un­re­lent­ing upheaval

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - 2011 - KEN WELLS

NEW YORK: Nat­u­ral catas­tro­phes; global fi­nan­cial calami­ties; the deaths of despots and des­per­a­dos; and roil­ing protests that shook the Arab world and oc­cu­pied Wall Street – they made 2011 a year that will be re­mem­bered for its al­most un­re­lent­ing tur­moil.

As earth­quakes, tsunamis, nu­clear melt­downs, tor­na­does, wild­fires, floods and hur­ri­canes roared from the nat­u­ral world, a tidal wave of sov­er­eign debt threat­ened to frac­ture the eco­nomic one, shak­ing the foun­da­tions of the 18-year-old EU and its com­mon currency and whip­saw­ing eq­uity mar­kets in the process.

Up­ris­ings known col­lec­tively as the Arab Spring spread from Tu­nisia in Jan­uary to rock Egypt, lib­er­ate Libya and threaten the As­sad regime in Syria.

It was a bad year to be a dic­ta­tor or ter­ror­ist. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is on trial in the coun­try he once ran; Libyan dic­ta­tor Muam­mar Gaddafi was hunted down and killed by rebels; and Osama bin Laden, mas­ter­mind of the 9/11 at­tacks, was shot to death by US Navy Seals in a raid on his Pak­istan com­pound.

A mis­sile fired by a US drone in Yemen killed al-qaeda op­er­a­tive An­war al-awlaki, a Us-born Mus­lim cleric ac­cused of help­ing to plot at­tacks on Amer­i­cans.

As con­flict con­tin­ued in Afghanistan and spread in So­ma­lia, a chap­ter closed in Iraq where, af­ter al­most nine years, the last US com­bat troops left on De­cem­ber 18.

World­wide in 2011, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, led by the March 11 Ja­pan earthquake and tsunami, took a $350 bil­lion chunk out of the econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to rein­surer Swiss Re Ltd

In­sur­ers were, in a way, lucky, with Swiss Re say­ing they were on the hook for only $108 bil­lion of those losses.

The Ja­panese tem­blor and gi­ant wave, which set off the Fukushima nu­clear pow­er­plant melt­down, amounted to the costli­est of the calami­ties, with more than 15 000 dead and 3 400 miss­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ja­pan’s National Po­lice Agency, and in­sured dam­age es­ti­mated at $35bn.

One month be­fore, a mag­ni­tude 6.3 quake struck Christchurch, New Zealand’s sec­ond­largest city, top­pling build­ings, trap­ping of­fice work­ers and killing 181 peo­ple. Dam­age was es­ti­mated at $12bn.

While nat­u­ral catas­tro­phes gar­nered head­lines, world lead­ers sought to avoid fi­nan­cial dis­as­ters. The Euro­pean debt cri­sis, sim­mer­ing since late 2009, es­ca­lated in April as Por­tu­gal joined Greece in seek­ing a bailout; Ire­land fol­lowed in last month. With hundreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in sov­er­eign debt and the sta­bil­ity of Spain and Italy in ques­tion, on De- cem­ber 19 Euro­pean lead­ers shored up their anti-cri­sis arse­nal, chan­nelling € 150bn (R1.7 tril­lion) to the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund (IMF).

Prospects that the euro zone could fall apart have been at the heart of world stock mar­ket volatil­ity. The costs would be “hor­rific”, Paul Dono­van, deputy head of global eco­nomics at UBS, told Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion on De­cem­ber 16, risk­ing “a global de­pres­sion on the scale of the 1930s”.

The US had its own debt strug­gles. In Au­gust, Stan­dard & Poor’s low­ered the coun­try’s long-term sov­er­eign debt rat­ing to AA+ from AAA, as the US Congress reached an 11th-hour ac­cord to raise the $14.3 tril­lion debt ceil­ing. So far, the down­grade seems to have hurt lit­tle but Amer­ica’s pride.

In Septem­ber, mem­bers of the Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment be­gan camp­ing in Lower Man­hat­tan’s Zuc­cotti Park. Or­gan­is­ers said they wanted to bring at­ten­tion to US in­come equal­ity and what they con­sider to be the cor­ro­sive role of Wall Street in the eco­nomic cri­sis. The oc­cu­pa­tion ended on Novem­ber 15 when po­lice moved in, took down tents and ar­rested about 200 pro­test­ers. Sim­i­lar protests took place in other cities around the globe, no­tably protest-prone Athens.

Across the At­lantic, a me­dia com­pany be­came a story. News Corp, con­trolled by Ru­pert Mur­doch, closed its News of the World tabloid in July af­ter rev­e­la­tions that staffers had been in­volved in hack­ing the cell­phone of a mur­dered school­girl.

The scan­dal has led to at least 16 ar­rests, among them Andy Coul­son, a former News of the World editor and one­time com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief for Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron, and the res­ig­na­tion of sev­eral se­nior Mur­doch lieu­tenants. On De­cem­ber 20, the com­pany’s Bri­tish pub­lish­ing unit said it had re­solved seven civil law­suits over the in­ter­cep­tion of celebri­ties’ voice­mail mes­sages to get scoops for the tabloid.

In Africa, a new state was born with the for­ma­tion in mid-year of South Su­dan; sev­eral coun­tries in­clud­ing the trou­bled Ivory Coast and DRC held elec­tions; pi­rates and in­sur­gents con­tin­ued to make head­lines for So­ma­lia; and in Nige­ria the pre­vi­ously lit­tle­known Is­lamist sect Boko Haram set off sev­eral dev­as­tat­ing bombs – the most re­cent on Christ­mas Day.

Through­out the year, the world was riv­eted by vi­o­lent crimes and sen­sa­tional al­le­ga­tions.

In Jan­uary, US con­gress­woman Gabrielle Gif­fords was shot in the head in Tuc­son while she met con­stituents at a su­per­mar­ket. The al­leged gun­man, 22- year- old Jared Lee Lough­ner, killed six peo­ple, in­clud­ing a fed­eral judge, and wounded 12 oth­ers be­sides Gif­ford.

In May, Do­minique StraussKahn, the French­man head­ing the IMF, quit af­ter sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions by a New York ho­tel worker landed him in jail un­der $5 mil­lion bail.

Charges were dropped in Au­gust af­ter pros­e­cu­tors de­cided the ac­cuser had lied re­peat­edly. Strauss-kahn still faces a civil law­suit.

An­other mass shoot­ing cap­tured global at­ten­tion in July. In Nor­way, 32-year-old An­ders Behring Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo and later at­tacked a sum­mer camp, mur­der­ing 77 peo­ple, many of them teenagers, some as young as 14.

While Breivik had writ­ten ex­ten­sively about what he called “cul­tural Marx­ism” and ris­ing “Is­lami­sa­tion” in his coun­try, in Novem­ber Nor­we­gian foren­sic psy­chi­a­trists de­clared him in­sane at the time of the at­tack, say­ing he suf­fered from para­noid schizo- phre­nia. He faces life­long com­pul­sory psy­chi­atric treat­ment and will prob­a­bly avoid a prison term, au­thor­i­ties say.

In Au­gust, ri­ots spread across Lon­don, Manch­ester and other cities and towns in Bri­tain, killing five, re­sult­ing in more than 3 300 ar­rests and caus­ing an es­ti­mated $328m in dam­age. Bri­tish po­lice, caught by sur­prise, were crit­i­cised for not step­ping in more quickly or firmly in some cases. The up­ris­ings’ causes – with some blam­ing racism and poverty, oth­ers a cul­ture of en­ti­tle­ment – are still be­ing de­bated.

The ri­ots cast a pall across Bri­tain in what had been a year up­lifted by the April 29 mar­riage of Prince Wil­liam to Kate Mid­dle­ton in West­min­ster Abbey. As many as 1 mil­lion peo­ple lined Lon­don’s streets, and an es­ti­mated 2 bil­lion watched on tele­vi­sion. By some es­ti­mates, the wed­ding added about $971m to the coun­try’s tourism rev­enue. – Bloomberg

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