"Highlights" Continued...

Issue: "News of the year," Dec. 31, 2005

In Azerbaijan, thousands launched a Ukraine-style protest after rigged November parliamentary elections kept voters from ousting their Soviet holdover government. A similar vote-rigging story unfolded in Kazakhstan, where 15-year President Nursultan Nazarbayev officially won 91 percent of a December vote.

Heather Swensen

After American worker Heather Swensen made a dramatic escape from Nepal in February ("Open and shut," April 16), fighting in the country between Maoist rebels and a government under martial law increased. "I could get stuck in India but that doesn't bother me," Miss Swensen said in the spring. Good thing, because that's what happened. Miss Swensen spent several months teaching in northeast India. And with Nepal at least temporarily a closed country, she decided to try another forbidden enclave: Bhutan.

The remote kingdom bills itself as "100 percent Buddhist" and almost never admits Christians. Miss Swensen and a small group found their way into Bhutan in time to pray for King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk on his 50th birthday Nov. 11. Why? King Wangchuk is the fourth ruler in a dynasty stretching back to 1907, and none of its monarchs have survived past his 50th birthday. Miss Swensen and her group hoped to offer Christian prayers on behalf of the king, who has ruled since age 17, that "he may know that God is the reason for his life, that He has spared him, and has a purpose for him being on the throne," she said. The group even had a "chance" meeting with the king's oldest son, Crown Prince Wangchuk.

King Wangchuk survived his birthday. What's more, on Dec. 17 he announced that he would abdicate the throne in favor of the crown prince, who will rule until 2008, when elections are set to transition the country into a parliamentary democracy. Miss Swensen prays for Nepalese to take on the daunting task of Christian ministry in Bhutan-a potent undertaking, given her success rate.


For three weeks Gaul was a fireball. Sparked by the accidental deaths of two teenagers fleeing police, Muslim riots that began Oct. 27 forced French authorities to impose curfews. By the end, rioters had torched almost 9,000 vehicles and police had arrested 2,900. Deep unemployment, crime, and little immigrant integration fueled the riots, but also woven in were radical-and growing-Muslim sympathies.

Gang fight

Well beyond their curfew, U.S. senators headed toward a showdown over conservative judicial nominees. With Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid at an impasse, 14 Senate lawmakers-seven from each party-brokered a deal on the eve of a crucial vote in May: Republicans would forgo their "nuclear option"-ending filibusters on judicial nominations-if Democrats promised not to use them, except in "extraordinary circumstances."

The "Gang of 14" deal put formal Senate leadership on the skids but cleared the way for long-filibustered Bush nominees Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, William Pryor, David McKeague, Richard Griffin, and Susan Bieke-Neilson to start work on federal appeals court benches.

The mighty fall

If 2004 was a banner year for Republicans, 2005 put the GOP into a slump. House majority leader Tom DeLay was forced to resign his leadership post after a Texas jury indicted him for money laundering. His standing in his home district outside of Houston fell. Early December polls showed only 36 percent of voters in his district would reelect him now. Mr. DeLay faces felony charges related to what prosecutors call dirty fundraising, after conspiracy charges were dropped. To retain his leadership position in the House-and his seat-he needs not only to win in the trial, but to win quickly.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby resigned from his post as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff under indictment for lying to a grand jury. After more than two years' investigation, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald eventually fingered Mr. Libby.

Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff could face the most serious charges of all: Three separate grand juries are investigating whether he doled out gifts and political contributions in return for political favors from top congressional Republicans, including Mr. DeLay. Dishonesty paints a gloomy picture of Republicans in power. "The perception has been set, is being set, and will last a lot longer than any exoneration that may come to light," said GOP consultant Eddie Mahe.

Day in congress

Once-greats of major-league baseball found themselves warming a congressional hearing bench over steroid use. Legendary slugger Rafael Palmeiro told a House of Representatives subcommittee on March 17: "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." But when major-league baseball revealed that he had tested positive for stanolozol in the middle of his 20th big-league season, the first baseman said the illicit steroid must have gotten into his body by accident-perhaps, he said, from a B-12 injection given to him by former teammate Miguel Tejada. What should have been a victory lap on a stellar career ended with Mr. Palmeiro wearing earplugs to block out booing fans.


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