Top news of 2013: Boston bombs to new pope

MSN News with wire reports | Getty Images: David L. Ryan, The Boston Globe; Getty Images: Vincenzo Pinto, AFP; AP Photo: Joel Ryan, Invision
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2013: The Year in News

Topping 2013's bad news were the Boston bombing, concerns over massive government surveillance and a chemical weapon attack. On the up side, a prince was born, a pope chosen, and three Ohio women held captive for 10 years were freed. See gallery

Two bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finishing line, left photo, giving Americans another terrorist anniversary to remember. On the right are events from older dynasties. Pope Francis was elected the 266th pontiff in the Roman Catholic Church's nearly 2,000-year history, top, and the British crown welcomed its newest addition, Prince George, here with his mother and father, Duchess Kate and Prince William.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Reuters: Darren Staples
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Jan. 15: Horse meat hullaballoo

Causing a gag heard 'round the world, horse DNA was discovered in beef burgers in British grocery stores in mid-January. Tesco, the world's third largest retailer, immediately withdrew all its burgers, as did Aldi and three others.

Food safety agencies put massive testing in place in the European Union. Nearly every week more products, stores and suppliers failed the horse meat test. Some products also had pig, buffalo, goat or donkey meat. By mid-year, mislabeled products had been found in 21 countries and included such big names as Nestle's Buitoni ravioli and Ikea's Swedish meatballs. Poor Iceland, though, discovered one of its beefy products had no meat in it at all.

Though eating horse meat isn't inherently dangerous (and is acceptable in some cultures), concern ramped up about whether the meat came from horses treated with dangerous drugs that could be passed on to humans. In Britain, the greatest concern was not the gag factor or violating a cultural taboo, but the mislabeling.

The EU and food safety agencies chalked up the incidences to a poorly regulated industry and promised to strengthen oversight and labeling. Several suppliers were arrested for deliberately relabeling horse meat as beef.

In December, a related but different scandal arose: Horses used in labs end up on French dinner tables.

AP Photo: Stringer
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Jan. 16: Algeria hostage crisis

More than 800 people were taken hostage Jan. 16 at a gas facility in Algeria by around 40 Islamist terrorists. Four days of intense chaos followed, which included several failed attempts by the Algerian army to free the captives, many of whom were foreign citizens. Algerian special forces finally freed the surviving hostages on Jan. 19.

The siege began when terrorists attacked two buses filled with gas plant employees, killing several on the spot and capturing the rest. Heavily armed, the militants then stormed the facility and rigged the plant with explosives.

Survivors said the gun-wielding militants tied them up, beat some of them and fatally shot several employees. Some survivors hid under furniture or in false ceilings. Others tried to dismantle some of the mines that had been scattered throughout the facility.

The following day, Algerian special forces attacked the facility trying to retake the facility. The raid lasted eight hours and several hostages were freed, but many remained hidden in the plant. By Jan. 18, the militants were holed up with at least seven hostages inside the gas facility. Algerian forces surrounded the facility and attempted to free the hostages once again. At that point, many of the remaining hostages were shot by the terrorists.

In the Algerian forces' final assault the morning of Jan. 19, they rounded up the surviving hostages and cleared the site, effectively marking the end of the crisis. Altogether they freed 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners. At least 39 hostages were killed along with 29 militants and one Algerian security guard.

Algerian authorities said they believe the purpose of the attack was to demand an end to French military operations in Mali. The al Qaida-linked terrorist group had entered the country from Libya and Mali. The Tigantourine gas facility was operated by British Petroleum, Statoil and an Algerian state oil company.

In this photo, Algerian soldiers and officials stand in front of the gas plant in Ain Amenas, seen in the background, during a visit organized for the media on Jan. 31.

Reuters: Ricardo Moraes
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Jan. 27: Brazil nightclub tragedy

fire raced through a crowded nightclub in Brazil Sunday, Jan. 27, killing 241 people in what appeared to be the world's deadliest nightclub fire in a decade. The blaze at the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria was ignited by a performing band’s pyrotechnics. Most victims, trapped inside the club, died of inhaling toxic fumes from the flammable foam on the ceiling. In this photo, young people pay tribute to the victims. Eight people were charged in connection with the fire: the two nightclub owners and two members of the band were charged with murder, two others were charged with perjury and two with evidence tampering.



AP Photo: Themba Hadebe
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Feb. 14: Oscar Pistorius arrested

South African "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who became one of the biggest names in world athletics, was charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend at his upscale Pretoria home on Valentine's Day. The news shocked South Africa, where Pistorius is considered a national hero, and fans around the world who were inspired by his performance at the 2012 Olympic Games. Pistorius is the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.

Pistorius claimed he thought he was shooting at an intruder in his bathroom. Instead, he sent four bullets into 30-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, a law school graduate, model and women's issues entrepreneur who gave motivational speeches and promoted women's rights issues. Pistorius was indicted for premeditated murder as well as for several gun charges. His trial is scheduled to start in March 2014.


AP Photo:, Yekaterina Pustynnikova
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Feb. 15: Gigantic meteor shocks Russia

Some residents of Chelyabinsk, Russia, understandably thought the world was coming to an end when a giant fireball, brighter than the sun, streaked across the sky on the morning of Feb. 15. Captured in spectacular footage by dozens of dashcams and surveillance cameras, the 10,000-ton meteor broke up at a 20-mile altitude, scattering debris across a wide area and generating a shock wave that knocked out electricity and cell service, and shattered over 1 million square feet of windows. More than 1,600 people were injured in Chelyabinsk, many by flying glass.

"There was panic. People had no idea what was happening," one Chelyabinsk resident told the Associated Press.

Scientists say there was no way to detect the asteroid before it hit earth because of its relatively small size, and warn that there are millions of similar objects orbiting the planet. Within days of the event, chunks of the meteor were selling for up to $2,200 per gram, more than 40 times the price of gold. In October, a sizeable chunk of what could be part of the meteor was recovered from a Russian lake.

Getty Images: Vincenzo Pinto, AFP
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March 13: Pope Francis elected

Roman Catholic history was bent in 2013 by two stunning events: Pope Benedict XVI resigned, the first in 600 years to do so, and elected to replace him was Argentinian bishop Jorge Bergoglio, the first South American and first of the Jesuit order to rise to the papacy.

Starting with his appearance on the Vatican balcony March 13, Bergoglio has struck the world as "different." He is the first Pope Francis, honoring mostly St. Francis of Assisi, who renounced family wealth to live as and serve the poor. The new pope followed suit, refusing to move into the luxurious papal apartment. His sharp focus on the poor is just one of the startlingly plainspoken attitudes now issuing from the tradition-bound Vatican. Others include less judgment toward gays and those who've had abortions, more connection with other faiths, firmer determination to fix the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank, and a push to reform the church into a more welcoming, less rule-bound institution.

Getty Images: Peter Macdiarmid
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March 14: Higgs boson confirmed

To non-scientists, Higgs boson sounds like a hulking prairie animal — unless you know it by its misnomer nickname, "the God particle." It is a tiny thing in the universe that explains a theory about why some things have mass. More importantly, it verifies the Standard Model of physics. It may also be one step forward to proving other woo-woo, non-standard models such as string theory or parallel universes.

Mere theory for 40 years, the Higgs boson was confirmed as real March 14. So what's the big deal? Why has the world spent billions and decades sussing it out? To know how the universe is constructed, that's why. Doing so helps us invent new things, perhaps even wrangle what's now science fiction into reality, like the Tardis or warp speed or the Star Trek replicator.

The search for the Higgs boson has already been useful. Scientists' side discoveries included the Internet, cloud computing, solar energy capture, medical imaging and a proton therapy that's used in fighting cancer.
The latest big side deal is that Peter Higgs, the Higgs of Higgs boson, won the Nobel Prize for Physics this year along with fellow theorist Francois Englert. Higgs is pictured here in front of a photograph of the Large Hadron Collider, the $10 billion contraption that helped find the Higgs boson, at the London Science Museum in November.

Getty Images: David L. Ryan, The Boston Globe
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April 15: Boston Marathon bombing

Terrorist horror hit America again when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs exploded seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. This time it wasn't al-Qaida that shattered a spring day as gorgeous as 9/11 was a fall morning. It was two young Chechen brothers, one a radicalized Muslim, who were believed to be striking back at the United States for the killing of Muslims in foreign lands.
Just before 3 p.m., the bombs blew up in the midst of crowds of families, friends and fans, sending smoke and debris sky high like surreal confetti. As rescuers rushed to tear away race fences to reach the injured, the rest of the country stopped in shock.
Dead in the blasts were an 8-year-old boy, a restaurant manager, 29, and a Chinese exchange student, 23. More than 260 others were wounded, 14 of whom lost limbs, including the sister of the dead boy. Afterward, photos showed sidewalks coated in blood, a man in a wheelchair holding his own artery as he was pushed down the street, bystanders bewildered and ambulances crowding Boylston Street. Helpers later trembled describing the brutal injuries and body pieces on the streets. 
On April 18 the FBI asked for help to identify two suspects. That night, after killing a police officer and becoming embroiled in a lengthy police chase and gunfight, the bombers were revealed: Chechen brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a 26-year-old whose radical behavior prompted Russia to warn the U.S., and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, a more Americanized college student and a U.S. citizen. The two learned how to make the bombs on an al-Qaida website and had carried them to the marathon in their backpacks.
Tamalan, who had a child with his American wife, died in the shootout with police and from his brother running over him with a vehicle as Dzhokhar tried to escape. After a manhunt and lockdown of the entire Boston area, Dzhokhar was caught April 19 hiding in a covered boat, stored in a back yard. He was shot while hiding in the boat by police, who believed erroneously that he was armed. He recovered and is now in prison, awaiting trial on 30 charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction.

Getty Images: Jewel Samad, AFP
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April 17: Gun legislation fails

When gun control legislation was initiated after the shocking Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, advocates believed there was a good chance it would be enacted. But after several tense months, the bill failed to pass in the Senate on April 17. The rejection dealt a sharp blow to President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Senate and handed the National Rifle Association a victory.

The bill's centerpiece was a bipartisan plan to require background checks on all commercial gun sales. The measure failed 54-46, with a 60-vote majority needed. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats voted no.

Also failing were: a bid to loosen restrictions on concealed weapons with only 57 votes; bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition; and even gun control proposals backed by Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a gun owner and Democrat from Nevada, originally supported the background check measure, but later switched his vote to "no" when he realized it wouldn't pass so that he could bring up the measure in the future under Senate rules.

In this photo, President Barack Obama speaks about the bill April 17 in the White House Rose Garden, accompanied by former lawmaker and gunshot survivor Gabrielle Giffords, left, Vice President Joe Biden, right, and family members of Newtown school shooting victims.

AP Photo: Michael Ainsworth, Dallas Morning News, Pool
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April 19: Texas fertilizer plant explodes

As the nation focused on the FBI's manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, an industrial disaster rocked the small community of West, Texas, when a fertilizer plant exploded the night of April 17 and burned until the following morning.

Fourteen people were killed in the explosion, most of them firefighters and other first responders, and more than 200 were injured when fire engulfed the facility and caused great damage to nearby buildings and residences.

Investigators found that the plant had been operating without meeting safety standards, what ensuing lawsuits called decades of negligence. Officials discovered that ammonium nitrate triggered the blast and incompetence on the part of the plant owner contributed to the danger. Several lawsuits were filed against the owner.

Destroyed in disaster were dozens of homes, a school and an apartment complex in the town of fewer than 3,000 people. In this photo, wheelchairs are abandoned outside an apartment building four days later. With total damage estimated at $100 million, relief efforts barely brought in $500,000, compared to Boston-related charities raising more than $30 million.

Insult to injury came when FEMA officials in June concluded that the damage was "not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration." In early August, however, President Barack Obama reversed FEMA's decision and granted the requested $35 million in aid.

AP Photo: A.M. Ahad
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April 24: Bangladesh building collapse

Rana Plaza, an eight-story garment factory building near Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed April 24, killing 1,127 people. It was the worst disaster in the history of the global garment industry and one of the world's worst industrial accidents.

Rescuers searched the collapsed building for survivors for more than 19 days as anguished families waited for news, but miracles were few. One survivor was freed after 17 days under the building. Many ordinary workers took extraordinary measures to help free those trapped, even to the point of amputating limbs.

Thousands of workers later took to the streets to protest hazardous working conditions. Owners of the building and factory as well as an engineer were detained in connection to the investigation.

The disaster focused worldwide attention on labor conditions in Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry, which provides clothing for retailers around the globe, including Wal-Mart, Gap and many other Western companies. Wages of Bangladesh workers are among the lowest in the world. As a result, Bangladesh's government set up a minimum wage board and has promised to increase work safety.

AP Photo: Hennes Paynter Communications
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May 6: Kidnapped Ohio women freed

Three Ohio women who had been kidnapped, hidden, raped and beaten for a decade, were freed May 6 because their captor, Ariel Castro, forgot that morning to lock one of many doors that imprisoned them in a shabby Cleveland house.
Amanda Berry, 27, middle photo, forced open the door a few inches and yelled for help. Neighbors freed her and gave her the cell phone she used to call 911 and say the words quoted by thousands of news outlets: "I'm free now. I'm here."
Police then released, at left, Michelle Knight, 32 (held captive since 2002), and Gina DeJesus, 22 (held since 2004). With them was Berry's daughter, 6, whom Castro fathered. Their joy over being released and their families' celebrations were the brightest parts of what uncoiled into a dark, ugly story of their captivity.

Among the worst tales were of being pregnant from rape, then kicked in the abdomen or starved until they miscarried. Another was Michelle Knight's description of being trussed in chains and hung up from the basement ceiling.
Castro pleaded guilty to 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, 7 counts of gross sexual impropriety and other offenses. He blamed a sexual addiction for his behavior.
Sentenced in August to life plus 1,000 years, he had just begun his imprisonment when he was found hanged by a bedsheet in his cell. His death was first ruled a suicide but later was suspected to be an accidental autoerotic asphyxiation. In December, however, experts again ruled it a suicide.

AP Photo: The Arizona Republic, Charlie Leight, Pool
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May 8: Jodi Arias convicted of murder

Jodi Arias' murder trial seemed tailor-made for the tabloids. The 32-year-old waitress never denied killing boyfriend Travis Alexander in 2008, though she claimed it was in self-defense. She shot Alexander in the head, stabbed him nearly 30 times and slit his throat from ear to ear, leaving him nearly decapitated. On the witness stand, she shared intimate details of her life and her relationship with Alexander. And when a jury convicted her of first-degree murder on May 8, after just 15 hours of deliberations, she embraced the death penalty. "Longevity runs in my family, and I don't want to spend the rest of my natural life in one place," Arias told Fox affiliate KSAZ. "I believe death is the ultimate freedom and I'd rather have my freedom as soon as I can get it." Jurors ruled that she was eligible for execution, but the penalty phase of her trial was still ongoing as of December.

Getty Images: Tom Williams, CQ Roll Call
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May 10: IRS under fire

An IRS official admitted May 10 that agents had flagged conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status for added scrutiny by searching for keywords such as "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in the groups’ names. Tea Party members rallied around conservative leaders to protest the IRS actions. In this photo, supporters of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., cheer for her during a protest of the IRS in front of the Capitol.

The scandal led to congressional hearings, and President Barack Obama ultimately replaced IRS commissioner Steven Miller with Danny Werfel, formerly a White House budget official.

"Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," the president said. "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior at any agency, but especially at the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives."


Getty Images: Scott Olson
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May 19: Monstrous Oklahoma twister

A massive twister weaved a 17-mile path of destruction in Moore, Okla., on May 19, killing 24 people, including at least nine children, and injuring 237. It flattened homes and demolished an elementary school. Rated an EF5,  the most powerful type of tornado, it carried winds as high as 210 mph, a speed only 1 percent of all tornadoes reach. Meterologists said it generated several hundred times more energy than the Hiroshima bomb. Damage is likely to exceed that caused by the 2011 twister in Joplin, Mo., that killed 161 people and caused about $3 billion in damage.

Later in the year, a cluster of violent thunderstorms marched across the Midwest, some sprouting tornadoes. One in Washington, Ill., flattened the town in just minutes on Nov. 21. The death toll of eight was fairly low because of uncannily accurate forecasts and warnings on many media and, officials said the next day, because many families were in church that morning.

AP Photo: Vincent Yu
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June 5: Massive NSA spying exposed

Two newspapers, a few reporters and a leaker blew a gaping hole in the spy world in June.

Reporter Glenn Greenwald's June 5 story in The Guardian, a British newspaper, and The Washington Post unveiled the U.S. National Security Agency's secret order to collect millions of phone records of Verizon customers. A June 6 story unveiled a U.S. spy program called PRISM that mined personal data by tapping major Internet companies like Google and Microsoft — without permission or warrants. Countries all over the world went nuts over privacy concerns. (Disclosure: Microsoft publishes MSN News.)

The first stories were just the opening salvo. By year's end, the bombshells from Greenwald, pictured here at a Hong Kong hotel just after his June stories, told of massive U.S. surveillance around the world. Most revelations caused international ill will, especially those of the U.S. spying on allies — Brazil President Dilma Rousseff's e-mail and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone, for two instances — and of being in cahoots with other world spy agencies. In December, the Guardian said it has only published 1 percent of the leaker's trove.

And the leaker? American Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the NSA. See the next slide for Snowden's story.

AP Photo: LifeNews via Rossia 24 TV channel
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June 9: NSA leaker revealed

Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald named his source June 9: Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the NSA who had swiped more than 200,000 documents about surveillance programs and wanted the world to know about them. He also wanted Greenwald to reveal his identity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.

But he knew enough as an NSA contractor to know his fate would be prison — or worse  —  and he had prepared for a life in exile. The 29-year-old disappeared from his Hawaii home May 20 and holed up in a Hong Kong hotel. The U.S. sent a warrant for his extradition, but Hong Kong refused to execute it because, it said, Snowden's middle name was wrong. Snowden slipped out of Hong Kong, flew to Russia and was expected then to fly to Cuba, but didn't show up for the flight. For days, he was nowhere. He turned up in a Russian airport transit area June 23, stuck there with no papers to let him in the country and no guarantee of safety if he left. And there he stayed as U.S.-Russian relations combusted over his fate. Russia finally granted him asylum Aug. 1.

His Russian lawyer reported that Snowden, pictured here on a boat trip on the Moscow River in a photo released Nov. 1, was to start a job in November at a large Russian website.

AP Photo: J. Scott Applewhite
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June 25: Voting Rights Act curtailed

In a blow to voting rights advocates, the Supreme Court ruled June 25 that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could not be enforced. Section 5 of the act requires that jurisdictions with historical connections to civil rights violations, mostly in the South, must get federal approval before making changes to their voting laws.

The majority argued that the law relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress and changes in U.S. society.

Southern Republicans largely hailed the majority opinion as recognition of racial progress since President Lyndon Johnson signed the law at the apex of the civil rights movement. Democrats and civil rights attorneys lambasted the ruling as a setback for the very advancement Republicans highlighted, and the dissenters predicted a proliferation of laws designed to curtail minority participation in elections.

Indeed, immediately after the ruling was announced, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law.

In this photo, Ryan P. Haygood, director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, talks outside the Supreme Court in Washington after the ruling was announced.

Getty Images: Pete Marovich, MCT
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June 26: Supreme Court boosts gay rights

In a major victory for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings on June 26, effectively allowing same-sex marriages to occur in the country.

In a highly anticipated ruling, the high court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, in a landmark 5-4 vote. The provision of the law defined marriage as a "union between a man and a woman" and was ruled unconstitutional and in violation of the Fifth Amendment. DOMA was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.

Overturning this provision means legally married same-sex couples would be entitled to the same benefits as married heterosexual couples under federal law. These benefits include the ability to file joint tax returns and receive Social Security benefits.

In a separate ruling, the court cleared the way to eliminate Proposition 8, a controversial ballot measure that was introduced in California in 2008. The high court dismissed the case on technical grounds after the state's governor and attorney general declined to defend the the proposition. While the court didn't say same-sex marriages were a federal right, its refusal to hear the case paves the way for states to legalize same-sex marriages.

There are still state laws around the country banning same-sex marriages, and the court declined to say whether same-sex marriages are a constitutional right. Justice Kennedy said the DOMA ruling applied only to marriages from states that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. On Dec. 2, Hawaii became the 15th state to allow gay marriage.

Getty Images: Peter Kramer, NBC Newswire
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June 26: Paula Deen breaks down on 'Today'

A lawsuit filed against celebrity cook Paula Deen by a former employee was primarily about alleged sexual harassment and racial discrimination in restaurants managed by Deen's brother, Bubba Hiers. But in the news, it was all about Deen's admission in a deposition that she had used the N-word when retelling a story about being held at gunpoint by a black robber when she worked as a bank teller in the 1980s. Her Food Network contract wasn't renewed, her publisher canceled a cookbook it had slated, and several of Deen's sponsors, including Wal-Mart, dropped her. On June 26, Deen went on the "Today" show to defend herself, and broke down in tears while saying that if anyone in the audience had never said something they wished they could take back, "please pick up that stone and throw it as hard at my head so it kills me. I want to meet you." In August, the sexual harassment and discrimination suit was dismissed after both sides reached a settlement "without any award of costs or fees to any party."

AP Photo: Amr Nabil
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July 3: Egypt's President Morsi ousted

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president in its more than 5,000-year-old history, was ousted by the military July 3, after just one year in office.

Many Egyptians were upset that Morsi gave too much power to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and failed to tackle growing economic problems. The military installed a temporary civilian government, suspended the constitution, and called for new elections.

Anti-Morsi demonstrators took to the streets in celebration after the announcement and set off fireworks in Cairo's Tahrir Square, while his supporters staged demonstrations on his behalf. Morsi’s ouster has thrown Egypt onto an uncertain path.

He has been in secret detention since the coup and faces charges of inciting the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace last December. Morsi’s trial began Nov. 4, but his refusal to accept the court as the legitimate body to hear his case caused a ruckus in the courtroom. The trial was rescheduled to restart on Jan. 8.

In this photo, Morsi's opponents shout slogans and wave national flags in Tahrir Square in Cairo the day he was ousted.

Reuters: Jed Jacobsohn
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July 6: Asiana plane crash in SF

Summer travelers were shocked when a plane crash-landed at one of America's busiest airports. Two people were killed and 180 injured when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 hurled across the main airstrip at San Francisco International Airport. A third person — a crash survivor — was killed during the aftermath when an emergency response vehicle struck her while she was lying on the tarmac covered in protective foam.
The three victims were teenage girls from China. Ye Mengyuan, Wang Linjia and Liu Yipeng were 16-year-old students, close friends and top students looking forward to spending a few weeks at a Christian summer camp in California. They planned to practice English at the camp to boost their chances of attending a U.S. college.

Two people among the survivors ended up paralyzed. Victims told reporters that help took nearly 20 minutes to come despite their desperate calls to 911.
The accident — the first major commercial airliner to crash on U.S. soil since 2001 — happened when the landing gear clipped the runway's seawall, causing the pilots to lose control of the plane. The Korea-based carrier revealed that the pilot at the controls had far less experience landing the Boeing 777 model at SFO than his deputy pilot. The National Transportation Safety Board did not find any mechanical problems with the plane.

Getty Images: Joe Burbank, Pool
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July 13: Zimmerman acquitted in Trayvon Martin case

George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin during a fight in February 2012. The unarmed black teen was walking back from a convenience store. It was a rainy night and he was wearing a hoodie. Beyond those facts, many other details are in dispute in a racially charged case that dominated headlines for months. Many felt Martin was a victim of racial profiling while others felt Zimmerman was justified in his actions.

Charged with second-degree murder 44 days later, Zimmerman was facing life in prison if convicted. The trial started a year and a half later in a suburb of Orlando, Florida.

While prosecutors tried showing that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, racially profiled the black teen, Zimmerman’s lawyers argued that their client killed Martin because he feared for his life. Under Florida's "stand your ground" law, Zimmerman could have killed in self-defense.

Jurors found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder July 13, sparking nationwide demonstrations. In the months since, Zimmerman has had several run-ins with law enforcement.

AP Photo: Joel Ryan, Invision
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July 22: Prince George born

Britain's royal family welcomed its newest addition July 22 with the birth of Prince George, the first child of Kate Middleton and Prince William and third in line to the British throne.

As hordes of media waited outside, as they had for weeks, the 8-pound-6-ounce baby George was born at Saint Mary's hospital in London, in the same wing where his father was born to the late Princess Diana. Per custom, an official announcement was placed on an easel outside of Buckingham Palace that read, "Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4:24 p.m. today. Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well."

Prince William was said to have been at his wife's side throughout the birth. "We could not be happier," he said in a statement released later. The next day, the new parents introduced their son to the world when they left the hospital for home. Reminiscent of her late mother-in-law, Kate wore a polka-dot dress, as depicted in the photo. Unlike Diana, though, Kate showed off her "mummy tummy" rather boldly, to the delight of women around the world.

Prince George, the only grandson of Charles, Prince of Wales, bears a relatively short name for a future British monarch: George Alexander Louis. He was christened Oct. 23 in a private ceremony at the Chapel Royal in St. James's Palace.

AP Photo: Antonio Hernandez, El correo Gallego
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July 24: Spain passenger train crash

A Spanish high-speed train derailed and crashed into a security wall in Santiago de Compostela July 24, killing 79 people and injuring 140.

The train flew off the tracks after rounding a dangerous bend at a speed roughly twice the 50-mph limit, according to data recovered from its "black box." Traveling from Madrid to Ferro on the eve of a major Spanish holiday, the train carried 218 passengers and four crew members. All 13 cars derailed and four flipped over. The resulting damage caused multiple parts of the train to catch fire.

The driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, ignored three warnings to reduce speed before the crash, according to reports. Garzon said he had a "lapse of concentration" and by the time he applied the brakes, it was too late to prevent the derailment.

Garzon was arrested on charges of negligence and later charged with 79 counts of homicide by professional recklessness, among other counts.

Alberto Nunez Feijoo, president of Galicia, described the wreckage as "Dante-esque." Initial reports said 80 people were killed, but those reports were corrected after determining that some of the severed body parts belonged to different victims.

Feijoo said in the wake of the crash, "July 24 will no longer be the eve of a day of celebration but rather one commemorating one of the saddest days in the history of Galicia." It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972.

AP Photo: Patrick Semansky; AP Photo: U.S. Army
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Aug. 21: Bradley Manning sentenced

Alternatively considered an enemy of the state or a patriotic hero, U.S. soldier Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for giving hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, the largest such leak in the country's history. Manning leaked more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department diplomatic cables in 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. He was convicted of 20 offenses, including six Espionage Act violations, five theft counts and computer fraud. Prosecutors were unable to prove that he aided the enemy, a crime punishable by life in prison.

Manning has apologized and said he wanted to expose the U.S. military's "bloodlust" and generate debate over the wars and U.S. policy. "I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people," he said. But U.S prosecutors say Manning’s leaks endangered American lives and harmed diplomatic relations. With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has was held in pretrial detention, Manning could be out in about 6½ years, according to his defense attorney.

The day after sentencing, Manning announced in a statement: "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning, I am a female." At right is an undated photo of Manning that was released during her trial. At left, Bradley Manning is escorted outside a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Aug. 20.


Reuters: Stringer
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Aug. 21: Syrian chemical weapons attack

Approaching three years in duration, Syria’s civil war has become so routine that it sadly often fails to make headlines. But that changed in the days after Aug. 21 when a chemical weapons attack killed 1,429 people in a contested area near Damascus. The U.S. government believes President Bashar Assad's forces waged the attack. Russia, however, believes Syrian opposition forces were responsible. A United Nations report called it the "most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them" against Iraqi civilians in 1988. Within hours of the attack, dozens of disturbing videos emerged on social media of children and adults gasping for air. Other footage showed dozens of bodies, many of small children, lined up in mosques and hospitals.

To respond to the use of chemical weapons, President Barack Obama announced a few weeks later his intention to launch military strikes against the Assad regime — igniting a fierce debate among the public and American Congress. Polls showed that most Americans opposed U.S. military involvement in the conflict. Days later, the U.S. and Russia reached a diplomatic agreement for Russia to oversee the destruction of all Syria's chemical weapons and equipment. By agreeing to do so, Assad was able to avoid a punishing U.S. strike. As 2013 draws to a close, the conflict, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced as many as 6 million Syrians, continues unabated. It’s a small consolation that at least vicious nerve agents are no longer in the arsenal.

In this photo, a U.N. chemical weapons expert holds a plastic bag containing samples from one site of a chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighborhood of Damascus Aug. 29. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the U.N. watchdog and winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, is responsible for the weapons' testing and removal.

Getty Images: George Rizer, The Boston Globe
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Aug. 22: Aaron Hernandez charged with murder

Aaron Hernandez, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, was charged Aug. 22 with the June 17 murder of Odin Lloyd. Lloyd was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée at the time. Prosecutors allege Hernandez orchestrated the murder because Lloyd was talking to people at a Boston nightclub that Hernandez had a problem with. Two other men were charged as accessories to the murder. Hernandez pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintains his innocence. He'll appear in court again on Dec. 23. Hernandez is a suspect in two other investigations as well: a double homicide in Boston in 2012 and a shooting in Miami in early 2013.

Reuters Photo: Goran Tomasevic
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Sept. 21: Kenyan mall attack

For four days, Islamist militant gunmen besieged an upscale Nairobi mall, scattering, threatening and killing frightened shoppers and security guards. The Westgate mall was packed with shoppers that Saturday, many there with their children to attend a special culinary event for kids. Kenyan security forces ended the attack by firing explosives inside the mall, causing the roof to collapse. In the end, just four members of the al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab, armed with AK-47 assault rifles and grenades, ran the raid that killed 61 civilians and six security guards. All four gunmen were killed and authorities later charged four more men with aiding the militants in the attack.

The terrorist attack struck at the heart of east Africa's biggest economy. The militants specifically targeted non-Muslims, and at least 18 foreigners were among the dead, including six Britons, as well as citizens from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China. Nearly 200 people were wounded, including five Americans.

Reuters: Fars News
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Sept. 27: US-Iran tensions ease

For the first time in more than 30 years, the presidents of the United States and Iran spoke to one another directly Sept. 27.  Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate elected June 15, spoke by phone to President Barack Obama during Rouhani's trip to New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly. The 15-minute conversation reportedly centered on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In November, Iran and six world powers, including the U.S.,  reached a diplomatic deal to slow Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in return for lifting harsh economic sanctions. 

Getty Images: Matt McClain, The Washington Post
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Oct. 1: Government shutdown

A 16-day shutdown of the U.S. federal government began Oct. 1, when a group of conservative House Republicans demanded a defunding of President Barack Obama’s health care plan in exchange for passing a bill to fund the government. An angry American public blamed all sides for the shutdown, but polls showed most held the GOP primarily responsible for the impasse.

Approximately 800,000 federal workers were initially furloughed by the shutdown, the first in 17 years, which closed national parks and landmarks and various government agencies. Here, Richard Trott of the National Park Service installs a closed sign for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on the first day of the shutdown.

Under the threat of the U.S. defaulting on its debts and the specter of throwing the world economy into crisis, the Senate and the House passed a bipartisan bill Oct. 16 to end the shutdown and fund the government until Jan. 15, 2014. And in late December, Congress passed a two-year budget deal, with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Reuters: Jonathan Alcorn
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Oct. 1: Obamacare rollout

It was the rollout that rolled nowhere. The Oct. 1 start of President Barack Obama's health care plan, officially the Affordable Care Act, was a flat-tire disaster with a website so glitchy few could get onto the site let alone sign up for insurance. The program's rocky launch threatened to tarnish the president's legacy and signature legislation.

Also causing an uproar were the insurance cancellations many Americans were receiving, despite the president's promise that those who liked their policies and doctors could keep them. These policies were canceled because they didn't provide the coverage benefits and financial security required by the new law. "We fumbled the rollout on this health care law," the president admitted in a speech in mid-November.

Problems with triggered Congressional hearings and a Dec. 1 deadline to fix the website. Retooled now, the site's traffic has surged, though problems remain. Obama also extended the deadline a year for those whose insurance didn't meet the ACA's specifications.

Though it got less play in the media, there was also call-in and in-person help with signup. Here, Planned Parenthood worker Alicia Gonzales, left, speaks with a woman during an ACA outreach event Sept. 28 for the Latino community in Los Angeles.

Reuters: Mark Blinch
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Nov. 5: Toronto mayor's meltdown

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted Nov. 5 to smoking crack cocaine "about a year ago in one of my drunken stupors" after months of denying the incident. The admission came days after Toronto police reported having recovered a video file Oct. 31 showing the mayor smoking the drug. His job approval rating increased immediately following the confession, but it has since dropped substantially.

The Toronto Star and Gawker Media were first to report the existence of the video in May, at which point Ford said that the allegations were "absolutely not true." When asked why it took him several months to admit to smoking the drug, he said, "I wasn't lying. You didn't ask the correct questions."

The mayor, in office since 2010, repeatedly asked for the video to be made public, saying, "I want to see what state I was in." Court documents showed Dec. 4 that Ford had tried buy the video for $5,000 and a car from suspected drug dealers, which he denied vehemently.

Known to be a heavy drinker, Ford was adamant that he's not a crack addict. He did, however, tell city council that he's considering rehabilitation. He hasn't been formally charged with any crimes. Several city councilors demanded the mayor step down, but Ford insists he will not resign. Council stripped him of most of his mayoral powers, however, in late November.

AP Photo: Dita Alangkara
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Nov. 8: Typhoon Haiyan ravages Philippines

Several Philippine islands were ravaged by one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 5,000 people, leaving their bodies under rubble, out to sea or laying uncollected in the streets of its flattened cities. Survivors pleaded with the world for food, water and medical attention but it took days for a massive international relief effort to reach them.
The super typhoon is likely the deadliest natural disaster to hit this poor Asian nation, and may be the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall with gusts as high as 196 mph. Authorities said they evacuated as many as 800,000 before the storm, but the shelters were not strong enough to withstand its power.

AP Photo: Craig Ruttle
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Dec. 1: NYC train derailment

A New York City commuter train derailed after rounding a curve at 82 mph, killing four people and injuring more than 60 others in a crash that threw some riders from toppling cars. Before Dec. 1, the second-largest U.S. commuter rail service had never experienced a passenger death in a train accident in its 31-year history.

The driver at the controls survived the accident but admitted to investigators days later that he "zoned out" shortly before the crash in a fatigue that his lawyer compared to highway hypnosis. William Rockefeller said he caught himself nodding in the engineer compartment before realizing something was amiss and hitting the brakes, but he was no longer in control of the seven cars as they tumbled off the tracks. The speed limit on the curve is 30 mph, compared with 70 mph in the area approaching it, where Rockefeller is alleged to have blanked out.

A rail-safety law passed by Congress in 2008 gave commuter and freight railroads until the end of 2015 to install safety systems that the NTSB says can stop derailment caused by excessive speed. But Metro-North's chief engineer recently told NTSB investigators that the MTA is behind schedule "in several areas."

In this photo, taken from Manhattan, first responders and others work at the scene of the derailed train in the Bronx borough of New York Dec. 1.

Reuters: Rebecca Cook
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Dec. 3: Detroit eligible for bankruptcy

"This once proud and prosperous city can't pay its debts. It's insolvent." With that pronouncement on Dec. 3, federal Judge Steven Rhodes formally granted Detroit the largest public bankruptcy in US history. A once-thriving city of 1.8 million at its peak in the 1950s, Detroit's population dwindled to 700,000. The city faces a debt estimated to be as much as $20 billion. The city is so desperate for money that it may consider auctioning off masterpieces from the Detroit Institute of Arts and selling a water department that serves much of southeastern Michigan.

Getty Images: Gallo Images, Foto24
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Dec. 5: Nelson Mandela dies

After battling a long illness, Nelson Mandela died on Dec. 5 at age 95. He was one of the world's most beloved statesmen and a colossus of the 20th century when he emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate a peaceful end to white minority rule in South Africa.

His death closed the final chapter in South Africa's struggle to cast off apartheid, leaving the world with indelible memories of a man of astonishing grace and good humor. His regal bearing, graying hair and raspy voice made him instantly recognizable across the globe.

As South Africa's first black president, the ex-boxer, lawyer and prisoner No. 46664 paved the way to racial reconciliation with well-chosen gestures of forgiveness. He lunched with the prosecutor who sent him to jail, sang the apartheid-era Afrikaans anthem at his inauguration, and traveled hundreds of miles to have tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister at the time he was imprisoned.

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