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Biggest News Stories of 2004

Death and destruction are putting their final stamp on 2004, as the number of fatalities in southern Asia’s tsunami disaster soared by Thursday to at least 116,000. That startling figure includes 80,000 dead in Indonesia alone. Parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island remained inaccessible. Many people were still missing. The tsunami will certainly rank as one of the biggest news stories of the year, if not the decade. There were also other news events that involved personal tragedy, and acts of war and terrorism. VOA’s Chris Simkins has our countdown of some of the year’s most memorable events.

2004 was filled with news about the war in Iraq. There was a steady stream of violence combined with escalating suicide attacks by insurgents on U.S. soldiers, Iraqi police officers and civilians working with the United States. Roadside bombs and surprise attacks were popular tactics for targeting U.S. military convoys. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis were killed.

In July, the U.S. transferred control of the country to an interim Iraqi government. In May, the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal made headlines around the world. American news organizations uncovered disturbing photographs taken by U.S. soldiers showing Iraqi prisoners being tortured and placed in humiliating poses. The abuse, condemned by President Bush, led to changes at the prison and jail time for American soldiers.

Also in July, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein made his first appearance in court. Saddam was defiant as he confronted prosecutors seeking to charge him with genocide and mass murder. The former president denied the accusations and is expected to go on trial sometime after a new elected Iraqi government is in place in 2005.

At the end of the year the U.S. military launched a massive week-long operation in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. U.S. forces were engaged in fierce street fighting with insurgents who used the city as a base of operation. Fallujah was brought under U.S. control and stockpiles of weapons were found. Reports say more than 1,000 insurgents were killed while American soldiers suffered some of the heaviest casualties since the war began.

Other parts of the world were hit by terrorism. In September, armed Chechen militants took more than 1,200 children, parents and teachers hostage in a school in Beslan, Russia. After days of negotiations Russian commandos stormed the school and freed hundreds of hostages in an unplanned attack. More than 300 people, mostly children, were killed and 700 wounded.

In March, 200 people were killed in Madrid, Spain when a group linked to al-Qaida detonated bombs aboard packed commuter trains. The attacks came three days before Spain's general election, in which the incumbent Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was defeated.

The African nation of Sudan was in the news because of a major humanitarian crisis, after a two-year campaign of ethnic violence waged by government-backed Arab militias against black tribal farmers. Reports say 70,000 people were killed and more than one million displaced in the western Darfur region of the country. International aid organizations mounted massive relief operations for starving refugees who fled their homes because of the fighting.

Natural disasters around the globe dominated the news. The most powerful earthquake in 40 years hit parts of South Asia. The 9.0 magnitude tremor was centered near the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island. The earthquake under the seabed of the Indian Ocean sent huge waves crashing into densely populated countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Somalia. At least 100,000 people were killed after huge volumes of water swept people away, leaving massive destruction. Thousands more are missing.

This was one of the worse hurricane and tropical storm seasons in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans in decades. Nine major storms pounded island nations such as Haiti and four large-scale hurricanes battered sections of Florida in the United States. The storms caused hundreds of deaths, extensive property damage, and hurt the region's economies.

In other economic news, oil prices rose 33 percent in 2004 to a record $55 a barrel. The impact of rising crude prices caused gasoline prices to shoot up in most parts of the world and especially in the United States. By the end of the year, crude prices came down and stabilized after oil-producing nations increased production.

2004 was a year of historic political elections.

In Afghanistan, millions of people turned out to vote in the country's first presidential election. Afghans elected Hamid Karzai as their president three years after U.S. forces went to war to remove the Taleban regime. In the United States, after a hard-fought presidential campaign between Republican Party candidate George W. Bush and his Democratic Party challenger Senator John Kerry, voters elected President Bush to a second four-year term. Mr. Bush said he had gained political capital in the victory and would put it to use in a number of domestic programs including overhauling the pension and tax systems.

Halfway around the world, a bitter political crisis was defused in Ukraine after the Supreme Court overturned the election victory of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych over opposition party leader Victor Yushchenko. The court said there had been widespread election fraud and ordered a new election. Just week’s later Mr. Yushchenko won a resounding victory.

The political fight also resulted in Ukrainian lawmakers amending the constitution. At the same time Ukrainian prosecutors reopened an investigation into allegations that Mr. Yushchenko was poisoned with Dioxin in an assassination attempt before the election.

And there was a grand celebration in 2004 of Olympic spirit and international sports competition as Athens, Greece hosted the 28th summer Olympic games. Four billion television viewers watched as the Olympic flame returned to the country that invented the games.