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Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images

Russia's game of chess

News of the Year | Is the Russian bear coming out of hibernation?

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 27, 2008

Dmitry Medvedev was elected Russia's new president in March, Vladimir Putin retained power by becoming prime minister in May, and Russia invaded the Georgian enclave of South Ossetia in August-all signs that the Russian bear is coming out of hibernation. Analysts doubt Putin will relinquish leadership responsibilities to his protégé after Russia sent thousands of combat troops into South Ossetia, launching bombing raids into other parts of Georgia and advancing farther into the former Soviet republic's territory. After more than a week of fighting, both sides signed a French-brokered peace agreement. But days later, Medvedev announced plans to formally recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, leading to protests from Georgia and the West and sending an icy chill over Washington's relations with Moscow.

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Fidel finale

By The Editors

Ariana Cubillos/Prensa Latina/Associated Press

After 50 years in power, an ailing Fidel Castro passed his communist mantle to brother Raul on Feb. 19. The slightly younger Castro instituted some reforms, including legalizing cell phone use in April, but the end of Fidel's reign marked the end of an era more than the end of a communist dictatorship.

Mob rule

By The Editors

Associated Press/Photo by Karel Prinsloo

A wave of unrest hit Kenya when President Mwai Kibaki was sworn in for a second term in January. His opponents claimed the December 2007 elections were rigged, and massive protests led to more than 600 deaths and an estimated 300,000 homeless. After months of negotiations, Kibaki entered into a power-sharing deal making rival Raila Odinga the second prime minister, and created a coalition cabinet in April. But resettlement was difficult for many displaced Kenyans who lost property and loved ones in the riots.

Israeli PMs

By The Editors

Jim Hollander-Pool/Getty Images

Scarred by corruption charges, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni came close to becoming the first female prime minister in Israel since Golda Meir but failed to form a coalition government- pushing national elections to next February, when Livni will likely face formidable rival Benjamin Netanyahu.

Nukes

By The Editors

Associated Press/Sepah News

International experts accused Iran and North Korea of withholding vital information about their nuclear program. In respons e Iran in July te st fired a new version of the Shahab-3, a long-range missile it claims can reach Israel. North Korea did disclose what it says are its nuclear assets in June, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held disarmament talks in July with North Korean leaders. In October the United States removed North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terror in exchange for full access to the country's nuclear sites.

State of emergency

By The Editors

Alexander Joe/Getty Images

President Robert Mugabe began his sixth term of office in June after his chief rival pulled out days before elections, citing voter intimidation. Both the United States and Great Britain launched a campaign to force Mugabe to step down, but Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders.

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai reached a powersharing deal in September but failed to agree on a host of cabinet positions. In a moment of rare criticism of an African leader, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga in November joined the chorus of primarily Western voices calling for Mugabe's removal-as the country spiraled into a state of emergency with nearly 4 million Zimbabweans in need of food aid to survive.

Beirut erupts

By The Editors

Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Lebanon braced for what threatened to turn into another full-scale civil war in May when Hezbollah and pro-government forces clashed on the streets of Beirut. More than 80 people died when the Iranian-backed militant group briefly seized control of several neighborhoods and blocked access to the city's airport. An earlier bombing near the U.S. embassy killed four. Rival leaders signed a pact May 21 to end the 18-month political feud that launched the street battles. Five months later, Lebanon and Syria established diplomatic relations- a first since the two nations gained independence in the 1940s.

The new space race

By The Editors

Associated Press/Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi

Following a launch order from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian "research rocket" Explorer 1 ignited and lifted off Feb. 4, the same day Ahmadinejad unveiled Iran's first major launch center on national television. A second Explorer rocket followed in November. Iran joined a lineup of non-Western nations eager to demonstrate their prowess in space: In October India launched a rocket to send its unmanned, $74 million Chandrayaan 1 satellite to the moon-where, incidentally, Chinese and Japanese spacecraft are already in orbit. The United States has its own lunar orbiter in the works, but it won't fly until 2009.

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