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Global Conflicts, Economy, Environmental Issues Top News of 2007

Violence around the globe and the planet's environmental outlook were among the top stories in the news in 2007. VOA's Robert Raffaele looks back on the past year.

The U.S.-led war in Iraq tops our look at the year's most important stories. The surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops has led to claims by U.S. generals and diplomats of greater success.

"While noting that the situation in Iraq remains complex, difficult and sometimes downright frustrating, I also believe it is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time, although doing so will be neither quick nor easy," said General David Petraeus.

But many U.S. lawmakers remain troubled by continued violence across Iraq.

Democratic Party Congressman John Murtha is a lawmaker who says, "So when you talk about victory, you're talking about stability, which we don't have."

America's war effort, and the use of private security forces, are under intense scrutiny both at home and abroad. One incident that the Iraqi government called unprovoked involved the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians.

2007 also marked major change elsewhere in the Middle East as fighting between rival Palestinian groups essentially split the Palestinian territories in two, with Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah controlling the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined President Bush in Annapolis, Maryland for a U.S.-sponsored peace conference that resulted in Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert agreeing to at least a framework for peace.

"This will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, but it is nevertheless inevitable. I know this, many of my people know this. We are prepared for it!" Olmert said.

The fear that Iran might become a nuclear power remained a key concern of many nations. And despite a recently released U.S. intelligence report that says Iran abandoned efforts to make nuclear weapons in 2003, President Bush says Iran is still dangerous.

"I think the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace," he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the U.S. report a "victory" for Iran, "against the world powers."

But he later said, "We consider this measure by the U.S. government a positive step."

For one of Iran's neighbors, Pakistan, internal rather than external conflicts shaped the course of the year's events.

Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, finally agreed to quit the army, but his decision in November to impose emergency rule heightened doubts about the country's democratic future.

In Burma, another cry for change met with even harsher measures. Military forces cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations led by Buddhist monks. A U.N. envoy later said evidence suggests Burma has covered up the scale of deaths and detentions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party faced very little opposition in parliamentary elections earlier this month [December], and Mr. Putin revealed his plans for the future soon afterwards. He said that when he leaves office in March he wants his first deputy prime minister, Dimitry Medvedev, to succeed him. Medvedev, in turn, says he wants Mr. Putin to be his prime minister.

An attempt by another leader to expand his power was not so successful. Voters in Venezuela handed President Hugo Chavez his first electoral defeat in nine years by rejecting constitutional reforms that would have allowed him remain in office beyond two terms.

Venezuela is one of the world's top exporters of crude oil. Prices for crude rose to record highs during 2007 as demand grew from the fast-growing economies in China and India. War and unrest in oil-producing nations also gave prices a boost.

Violence in Sudan remains a top humanitarian concern. The Darfur region is still plagued by uncontrolled warfare and unsuccessful diplomacy to stop it. In the last four years at least 200,000 people have died, and millions more left homeless.

Human rights activists want China to scale back its purchase of Sudanese oil that China buys to fuel its economic growth. But China's booming economy raises concerns about carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming.

Those concerns led international officials and environmentalists to seek guidelines to move beyond the Kyoto Protocol. That treaty expires in 2012. It calls on rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by five percent compared to 1990 levels.