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The top national and international news stories of 2004
Scripps Howard News Service


December 27, 2004

In case you missed it, the United States held an election this year.

President Bush's thin but decisive victory over Democratic rival John Kerry on Nov. 2, a determination that bears heavily on other major issues like Iraq and the war on terror, heads Scripps Howard News Service's list of the Top 10 news stories of 2004.

During a momentous year in which the American public embraced moral values while simultaneously tuning into the sexpots of "Desperate Housewives," at a time when the popularity of NASCAR soared, the likes of Marlon Brando and Ronald Reagan passed on and residents of "old Europe" looked on curiously at the goings-on in the world's lone remaining superpower, Bush's successful stab at a second term - a goal that eluded his father - stands out.

The Bush victory parade wasn't the only occurrence that merited attention. From Mother Nature's destructive force visited upon the Sunshine State to the disturbing activities at what had been a fairly anonymous lockup in Iraq, future historians will uncover plenty to contemplate when they get around to picking through the rubble of 2004.

So, without further adieu:

1. President Bush wins re-election.

It wasn't easy. Bush entered the fray with a relatively low approval rating for an incumbent and found himself up against a suddenly united Democratic Party. Kerry, who emerged victorious from the arduous Democratic primary season, sought to focus attention on Bush's alleged shortcomings on the domestic side of the ledger. But the president's advantage in the war on terror, and a massive get-out-the-vote effort, proved decisive.

2. U.S. deaths resulting from the year in Iraq top 1,000.

Despite some obvious American successes in the sands of Iraq, the casualties continued to mount as troops encountered resistance from Saddam Hussein loyalists in the form of street fighting around Fallujah and what seemed like almost daily car bombings. The carnage, which seems to have no end in sight, left at least half of the American public wondering if the operation was a good idea.

3. Four major hurricanes strike Florida, leaving death and destruction.

Their names were Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne _ but as far as the Sunshine State is concerned, they were the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The misery began Aug. 13 when Hurricane Charley hit Punta Gorda and remained until Jeanne rode into Georgia on Sept. 27. The last time so many storms struck the same state in one season was 1886, when Texas took four direct hits. The bottom line: at least 117 deaths and insured losses of $17.5 billion.

4. A Massachusetts court opens the way for gay marriage, but a backlash quickly follows.

In February, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court opened the way for same-sex marriage under the state constitution, leading hundreds of gay couples to head for New England to tie the knot. Officials in other jurisdictions, like San Francisco, also sought to permit gay folks to legalize their relationships, but they were quickly struck down. The Massachusetts ruling carried a cost: Bush wants a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and several states passed amendments to their own constitutions to prohibit the recognition of such nuptials in their jurisdictions.

5. CIA Director George Tenet resigns; Congress passes intelligence-reform bill.

Tenet will be remembered for informing Bush that the evidence establishing that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Only after the invasion was that information found wanting. He left after losing the confidence of powerful Republicans. In his wake, Congress finally passed intelligence-reform legislation that places one individual atop the nation's spy network with control over the budget, all to assure there are no future 9/11s.

6. Gasoline prices top $2 a gallon.

With crude oil prices rising in the face of increasing international demand and refineries unable to keep up with consumer demand, the cost of a gallon of gas exceeded $2 in most parts of the country in the summer of 2004, pinching family finances even further. Prices leveled off and swung downward in December, but there's no predicting what direction costs may head in 2005.

7. Flu-shot shortage.

Americans were stunned to learn in October that the nation's flu-vaccine supply was dangerously low, owing to the inability of Chiron, one of two major U.S. manufacturers, to produce the millions of doses needed. Bush said he was skipping his shot this year and urged those in relatively good health to follow suit, saving the shots for the elderly and the youthful. The federal government eventually entered into a deal with GlaxoSmithKline to ease the shortfall, but supplies remain diminished heading into the flu season.

8. Military personnel involved in abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison face arrest.

In one of the year's darker stories, it was determined that between October and December of 2003, according to an Army report, there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" at the Abu Ghraib prison, about 20 miles from Baghdad, where the U.S. military housed common criminals, security detainees and several key leaders of the Iraq insurgency. Photos depicted various acts of abuse and torture, including the use of dogs to terrorize detainees. Several guards were charged and the military continues to investigate.

9. Celebrity trials dominate cable television.

Americans were mesmerized by the trials and tribulations of the famous - Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson - and the not-so-famous _ Scott Peterson and Mark Hacking _ who found their legal miseries being played out across the airwaves, with experts analyzing each legal maneuver like John Madden during a "Monday Night Football" game.

10. A memorial is dedicated to veterans of World War II on the Mall in Washington.

The monument to what has been dubbed America's "greatest generation" was dedicated in May to honor the 16 million who served in the U.S. armed forces during WWII, the more than 400,000 who died and all who supported the war effort from home. It was favorably received despite some protests about its location and has served as a gathering spot for the diminishing number of veterans.

These are the top 10 international stories as selected by Scripps Howard:

1. The war in Iraq trudges on.

With most of the world casting a disapproving eye, the United States and a handful of other nations known as "the coalition of the willing" moved toward a national election in Iraq but with no end in sight as casualties mounted.

2. Yasser Arafat dies.

The leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization left a vacuum at the top of the organization dedicated to regaining Israeli-held lands, but the United States and others hope his demise will revive hopes for peace in a troubled region.

3. Terrorists attack Russia.

In Beslan, Chechnya separatists gained control of School No. 1 and held more than 1,200 people, mostly children, hostage for several days before the inevitable showdown with Russian authorities left more than 300 children, teachers and parents dead. Separately, two Russian planes crashed within minutes of takeoff, almost simultaneously, killing 84 people.

4. Political intrigue in Ukraine.

Ukrainians surged into the streets of Kiev after Viktor Yanukovich was declared the winner over Viktor Yushchenko in the nation's presidential election, amid allegations of vote fraud. The courts rejected the results and ordered a new election, set for Dec. 26. Yanukovich ran with the support of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma while Yushchenko, the former prime minister whose change in appearance is attributed to dioxin poisoning, is seeking the office as a reformer.

5. Genocide in Darfur.

Beginning in February 2003, the Sudan government has been engaged in a form of ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region. Government forces and militias have systematically targeted civilian communities that share the same ethnicity as rebel groups, killing, looting, raping and forcibly displacing people and destroying hundreds of villages in apparent violation of an April 8 cease-fire agreement. The government in particular has continued to use helicopter gunships in bombing attacks on civilian objects. Fighting and displacement continue, particularly in South Darfur.

6. Madrid train bombings.

Terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden bombed a commuter train on March 11, killing 191 people in retaliation for Spain's involvement in the war in Iraq. The conservative government of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close Bush ally, initially pointed a finger at Basque separatists. In elections conducted three days after the incident, Aznar's party lost and the new prime minister, Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, announced, to the consternation of the White House, that Spain was withdrawing its troops.

7. Reports indicate North Korea and Iran have nuclear capabilities.

Two members of the "axis of evil" - Iraq being the third - caught Washington's attention because of their apparent nuclear capabilities. Bush said his government is growing increasingly concerned about reports that Iran is "willing to speed up processing materials that could lead to nuclear weapons." Meanwhile, experts believe North Korea already has sufficient material to build four to eight nuclear bombs. The government in Pyongyang offered to negotiate the situation with the United States one-on-one, but Bush continued to press for discussions involving other nations like China and Japan.

8. Afghanistan installs a new president.

After decades of Taliban rule and a successful U.S. invasion in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Afghans went to the polls and selected Hamid Karzai to serve as the nation's first duly elected president. Karzai has close ties to Washington and has willingly involved himself in the war against terrorism.

9. Russia signs the Kyoto protocol, throwing a curveball at Washington.

Russia in November signed the 1997 Kyoto agreement to cut the production of greenhouse gases that many scientists assert lead to global warming. That decision placed the spotlight on the United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, which has refused to sign, one of many issues showing how America's policies are at odds with those of many other nations.

10. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide leaves Haiti.

Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who was Haiti's first freely elected president, was ousted in February by a ragtag band of armed gangs and former soldiers. While Aristide was viewed by some of Haiti's poor as a hero, those who forced him out claimed his administration was rife with corruption and that he used violent tactics to intimidate opponents. Aristide was escorted from his country by U.S. Marines and wound up in South Africa. He maintains he was the victim of a coup while the U.S. government said he resigned.



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