Year in Review: Amazon fire to Baghdadi killing, top global events of 2019

Firefighters douse flames from the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. Photo: Reuters
The year 2019, the last year of this decade — was full of twists and turns not only for India but the world in general. Several key events not only re-shaped our worldview, but also pushed nations towards uncharted territories. 

Days before we enter the new year, 2020, Business Standard looks back at the top global events that made and headlines and drew attention in 2019: 

Killing of Al-Baghdadi
ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself during a raid by US commandos in Syria

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Months after the Islamic State lost control in major strongholds of Syria, its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself during a raid by United States commandos in northwestern Syria. Announcing the development, US President Donald Trump said Baghdadi retreated into a tunnel with three of his children during the raid and then detonated an explosive vest when US military dogs were sent in. Baghdadi had risen to prominence in 2014 when he announced the creation of ‘Caliphate’ and carried a bounty of $25 million on his head. At its peak, the terrorist organisation ISIS controlled over 80,000 sq km of area stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq. 

Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday blasts
Serial blasts rocked Sri Lanka, killing over 200, as suicide bombers targeted churches and hotels

A view of St Sebastian’s Church damaged in a blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, on Sunday | Photo: Reuters

Eight serial blasts ripped through the island nation of Sri Lanka on April 22 on Easter Sunday, killing over 200 and wounding 450 people. The explosions targetted three churches and prominent luxury hotels in the country. Four Indians were among the victims of the serial blasts. The blasts were conducted in a well-coordinated fashion to cause maximum damage, targetting Christians during worship service and guests during the breakfast in beachfront hotels in the capital. All six of the first set of blasts were triggered by suicide bombers.

Amazon wildfire
The ‘earth’s lungs’ burnt as farmer set fire to the Amazon rainforest

An aerial view shows smoke rising over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, in this August 24, 2019 picture taken with a drone. Photo: Reuters

Amid growing concerns over climate change, a thick smog covered the skies of Sao Paulo in Brazil this September. The smog emanated from the world’s most biodiverse rainforest, the Amazon. Described as a global tragedy, the fire occurred as farmers cleared the path for agriculture, adding to the rapid deforestation of the rainforest. Facing criticism, the Brazilian government sent in the Army and imposed a temporary ban on fires to clear land. Referred to as the 'earth's lungs', the Amazon rainforest spreads over an area of 5.7 million sq km. In 2019, over 46,000 forest fires were reported in the Amazon, the worst figures in almost a decade. 

Hong Kong protests
Protests took centre stage across Hong Kong; the demand was full independence from China

A protestor uses a shield to cover himself as he faces policemen in Hong Kong. Protesters and police are standing off in Hong Kong on a street that runs through the bustling Causeway Bay shopping district. Photo: AP/PTI

The Hong Kong protests, also known as 'Water Revolution' have been going on against the controversial Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill introduced by the Hong Kong government. It allows the extradition of fugitives to mainland China, in a move feared to undermine the judicial independence of the country. While the Bill was withdrawn in September amid extreme criticism, the protests are still continuing, demanding full democracy and an inquiry into police action against protestors. The country has been ruled under ‘One country, two systems’ arrangement since it was handed over to China by Britain. The continuous clashes between the police and protestors have marked several days of agitation. 

Notre-Dame fire
The spire and roof of the 850-year-old Notre-Dame cathedral collapsed after a massive fire

Firefighters douse flames from the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. Photo: Reuters

People from across the world watched in shock the footage of the spire and roof of the 850-year-old Notre-Dame cathedral collapsing after a massive fire. The Gothic structure sat in the French capital of Paris on a small island called the Ile de la Cite, with river Seine flowing on both sides. The incident evoked reactions from around the world — from US President Donald Trump calling his French counterpart to Britain's Queen Elizabeth expressing sadness. In the days following the incident, donors pledged close to a billion dollars to restore the fallen structure. French President Emmanuel Macron set a five-year timeline to rebuild the Notre-Dame cathedral. 

Christchurch shooting
51 people were killed as lone-wolf opened fire in a New Zealand mosque

Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo: AP

In one of the worst attacks in the history of New Zealand, a lone-wolf gunman opened fire in a mosque on March 15, killing 51 and leaving 49 wounded. The attack took place at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in the suburbs of Christchurch where people had gathered for Friday prayers. The gunman live-streamed the attack on Facebook. 

Described as a white supremacist radicalised online, Brenton Tarrant has been arrested for the crime and is awaiting trial. Weeks after the attack, the New Zealand government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, banned military-style semi-automatic weapons in the country. 

Second Trump-Kim meet ends up dud
There were no talks on denuclearisation even when the leaders of the US and North Korea met a second time

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. AP/PTI

What was likely to be a historic event ended up as a dud after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cut short his second meeting with US President Donald Trump, without attending the joint-signing ceremony. Trump, who had been heavily criticised after his first meeting, which had ended without any promises on denuclearisation by North Korea, was hopeful of inking a deal in Hanoi, Vietnam. Meanwhile, North Korea has continued on the path of testing its ballistic missiles. 

Iran’s nuclear deal breach
The country set off global concerns by breaching uranium enrichment limit

Iran President Hassan Rouhani. (Photo: AP/PTI)

Nearly a year after US President Donald Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, the Iranian nuclear agency in May 2019 said it was raising uranium enrichment past the 20 per cent level and had launched advanced centrifuge machines in further breaches of commitments. "We have started lifting limitations on our Research and Development imposed by the deal... It will include the development of more rapid and advanced centrifuges," the agency said. The deal had capped the level of purity to which Iran could enrich uranium at 3.67 per cent — suitable for civilian power generation and far below the 90 per cent threshold of nuclear weapons-grade. The US has been pushing for isolating Iran by choking its oil exports.

Heavyweight champion: First black hole image
The Event Horizon Telescope captured the first image of a black hole located in a distant galaxy

Black hole | Photo: National Science Foundation (Twitter)

Described by scientists as a monster, the Event Horizon Telescope captured the first image of a black hole located in a distant galaxy. The result was from an experiment designed by Prof Heino Falcke of the Radboud University in the Netherlands. The professor called it "heavyweight champion of black holes in the universe". The stunning new image showed the shadow of the supermassive black hole in the centre of Messier 87 (M87), an elliptical galaxy some 55 million light-years from the earth. This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. "Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet," Nasa, the US space research agency, said.

Turkey’s invasion of Syria
Turkey launched an incursion into Kurdish-held northeastern Syria, drawing global condemnation

In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from targets inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces (Photo: AP/PTI)

Dubbed as Operation Peace Spring, Turkey launched a coordinated incursion into Kurdish-held northeastern Syria in October, even as void emerged in leadership after the US troops' withdrawal from the region. The invasion had roots dating back to World War II, when Kurds had emerged as a minority and sought shelter in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Among the minorities, the group Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) had been demanding a separate state of Kurdistan. Several western nations have declared PKK a terror organisation. The Turkish offensive was aimed at pushing back Yekineyen Parastina Gel (YPG) fighters and establishing a "safe zone" in the Syrian territory for refugees. The action invited strong-worded statements from several countries, including the US and France. 


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