Top International Stories of the Year 2014

      December 31, 2014 08:27

      The global headlines of the year were dominated by resurgent wars and conflicts, and headlines spread panics often quite out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the subject matter.

      A spate of mysterious airline disasters also kept the world holding its breath, while towards the end of the year North Korea's overreaction to a Hollywood caper prompted a solemn response from U.S. President Barack Obama and laughter around the globe.

      ◆ Ebola Outbreak Kills More Than 7,000 People

      The Ebola outbreak in the small West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone spread panic around the world after infecting 19,497 people and killing at least 7,588 as of Dec. 24.

      Fears escalated when a handful of foreign medical workers became infected with the deadly virus. But many were moved by the dedication of doctors and nurses who braved death while treating other patients suffering from the deadly virus or returning to the infected areas once they recovered.

      ◆ ISIS Atrocities Shock the World 

      The hardline Islamic terror group ISIS, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, shocked the world with atrocities and beheadings of both Western hostages and non-Muslims.

      The group launched a spectacular PR campaign by posting videos of the beheadings on the Internet and drawing a number of disenfranchised young Muslims from Western countries to its serried ranks. Some disturbed individuals in the West have linked their rampages to the group.

      ◆ Russia Annexes Crimea After Ukrainians Oust President

      Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in February after pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovich was ousted in a rebellion and replaced by a pro-Western government.

      Russia's intervention triggered a civil war in Ukraine. Moscow also provided behind-the-scenes support to pro-Moscow troops in eastern Ukraine, prompting sanctions by the EU and U.S. Around 4,600 people have died in military clashes between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian troops.

      But Russian President Vladimir Putin's dream of reviving the prowess of the former Russian empire ended in a heavy hit to his country and signs that his regime may be crumbling.

      Declining international oil prices dealt a fatal blow to Putin's intentions to weather out Western sanctions. International oil prices, which cost US$100 a barrel, have fallen to the $50 range since June, which is the lowest in almost six years. Russia, which relies heavily on oil exports, was hit hardest, and the ruble has halved in value since the beginning of 2014.

      ◆ Spate of Passenger Plane Disasters  

      A Malaysian Airlines jet carrying 298 passengers was shot down while flying over war-stricken eastern Ukraine in July killing everyone on board. That was just one of several major air accidents for Malaysian carriers. Another Malaysian Airlines plane carrying 239 passengers disappeared from the radar in March as it flew in the ocean south of Vietnam.

      In July, a Taiwanese passenger plane crashed, killing 47 people, while an Algerian jet accident left 116 passengers dead. And on Sunday, an AirAsia plane with 162 passengers and crew went missing while flying over the Java Sea in Indonesia. Three of the passengers were Korean.

      ◆ Hollywood Comedy Triggers N.Korean Cyber Attacks

      "The Interview," a Hollywood caper about journalists being instructed to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, triggered a clash between Washington and Pyongyang.

      North Korea issued a statement in June warning the U.S. not to release the film. And just after Sony Pictures premiered the film in early December, the company's website became the target of a hacking attack.

      Washington blamed Pyongyang for the attack and the North was hit by a widespread Internet outage believed to have been orchestrated by the U.S.

      U.S. President Barack Obama himself stumbled into the fray, berating Sony for canceling the release of the picture, and when Sony relented, the comedy starring Seth Rogen proved a huge hit both in theaters and on the Internet.

      It has not only been popular among illegal downloaders but earned more than US$15 million in four days after it became legally available to download or stream.

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