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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Asia review of the year 2008

December 19, 2008

If this is Asia’s Century, 2008 was supposed to be China’s year: after overtaking Britain to become the world’s fourth largest economy, it was set to challenge Germany in third place and replace Japan as holder of the world’s largest pool of foreign cash savings. And then there were the Olympics, the biggest and boldest ever.
By Richard Spencer
17 Dec 2008
It may have been China’s year, but not always in ways that the Communist Party could have predicted, or desired. An uprising in Tibet spilled over into worldwide protests which profoundly challenged western relations with the emerging superpower. A deadly earthquake, China’s worst natural disaster for 30 years, paradoxically drew the West and China closer together, as the efficiency of Beijing’s response was contrasted to the incompetence of the Burmese government in the face of the devastating Cyclone Nargis.
Elsewhere in Asia, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued, there was political instability in Pakistan and Thailand, terrorists brought graphic scenes of death and destruction to the streets and luxury hotels of Mumbai, but one long-running conflict came to an apparent end. In Nepal, Maoist former guerrillas formed a government after open elections, and oversaw the end of the monarchy. Worldwide, there are now just 27 left.
1. August 8 - the Beijing Olympics open
Was it the moment that China proved world power was shifting East? Can the world’s admiration for China’s extraordinary economic progress last? The West’s edgy relationship with the Asian dragon was put on hold as we admired the spectacular opening ceremony of the 2008 Games in Beijing’s new National Stadium, the Bird’s Nest. The Games themselves were no less dramatic - China came top of the gold medals table for the first time, the America swimmer Michael Phelps won a record eight golds, and Britain came fourth, its best achievement for almost a century. The smooth running of the Games cemented China’s reputation as an emerging power, but with police arrests of protesters and critics of the ruling Communist Party the rights of its people seemed to have paid a price.
2. November 26 - Terror in Mumbai
Fears that the world focus of terror was moving from Iraq back to Afghanistan, and from there into the Sub-Continent, were crystallised in a daring raid on India’s financial capital. Shooting almost at random, an Islamic terror group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen targeted the railway station, a cinema, a hospital, and two luxury hotels where guests and staff were rounded up and murdered. Indian security forces took three days to regain control, killing all but one of the 10 terrorists responsible and capturing the last. More than 170 people were killed, including one Briton and 29 other foreigners. Relations between India and Pakistan, where the terrorists were apparently based, hit a new low.
3. October 21 - Christian aid worker killed by the Taliban
Gayle Williams, a volunteer with the British Serve Afghanistan charity, was shot by two men on a motorbike in the capital Kabul. The Taliban issued a statement admitting responsibility and accusing her of proselytising. Her death gave a very visible impact to the success of the Taliban in recent months, even in areas around Kabul. As the American-led coalition fought back, its cross-border raids into militant strongholds in Pakistan, some with numerous civilian casualties, strained relations with Islamabad.
4. Feb 1 - New wave of women suicide bombers in Iraq
Two women blew themselves up in a crowded market in Baghdad, killing nearly 100 people. The growing use of women in suicide attacks in Iraq was a feature of the insurgency this year; some of those employed as bombers suffered mental disabilities, including the two responsible for this attack, according to US military sources. But overall, the level of violence in the country continued to decline.
5. March - Uprising in Tibet
Protests by monks beginning on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 uprising which led to the Dalai Lama’s exile, were suppressed by Chinese police. But on March 14, Tibetans rioted in the capital Lhasa, killing 20 people, and triggering a huge police and army crackdown as protests spread across the region. Foreign journalists were forcibly expelled, leaving behind rumours of shootings and mass detentions.
Subsequently, pro-Tibet sympathisers in London, Paris and San Francisco disrupted the Beijing Olympic Torch relay, leading to outbursts of anti-foreign sentiment in China and among Chinese populations around the world.
6. May 12 - China earthquake
Even as China reverberated from the uprising in Tibet, the ground shook in the south-west province of Sichuan and neighbouring regions, including Tibet itself. The quake, 7.9 on the Richter scale, was the deadliest natural disaster in China for 30 years, killing an estimated 80,000 people. The government’s swift and efficient response helped restore its reputation in the West; but the deaths of thousands of children as their shoddily built schools collapsed triggered widespread anger in affected towns and villages.
7. Feb 18 - President Pervaiz Musharraf of Pakistan defeated in parliamentary elections; later forced to quit
Two months after former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, her Pakistan People’s Party and other opposition groups inflicted a resounding defeat on the government of President Pervaiz Musharraf in parliamentary elections. He was forced from office in August, and replaced the next month by Mrs Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari.
8. November 25 - Thai protesters take Bangkok airport, strand holidaymakers
In a year of political chaos, Thailand was led by one prime minister after another as military rule gave way to a parliamentary democracy that proved deeply divisive. Opponents of the popularly elected People’s Power Party brought Bangkok, and the economy, to a standstill, finally staging a sit-in at Bangkok Airport. At times, the drama turned to farce: one prime minister was forced from office for appearing on a television cookery programme, while the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy claimed Thailand’s rural majority were too ill-educated for their votes to outweigh those of the urban elite.
9. May 2 - Burma cyclone
Cyclone Nargis swept up the Irrawaddy Delta and across Rangoon, killing an estimated 100-200,000 people. The military junta caused international outrage by pressing ahead with a constitutional “referendum” on May 10 and meanwhile delaying and obstructing aid supplies to the devastated region. In all, the United Nations estimated 1.5 million people were affected.
10. April 10 - Maoists win Nepal elections and end the monarchy
Elections brought an end to a long-running campaign by Maoist insurgents who went on to dominate the Himalayan kingdom’s new parliament. Change followed with bewildering speed in this conservative society - on May 28 the new Constituent Assembly dissolved the 239-year-old monarchy and declared a republic. King Gyanendra stepped down, and the Maoists’ reclusive leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, was voted in as prime minister on August 15.
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