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Costa Concordia crash

The top events in world news of 2012. See gallery

The Costa Concordia, a huge Italian cruise ship carrying thousands of passengers, crashed into a reef and partially sank in January when Captain Francesco Schettino brought it too close to the Tuscan shore. Thirty-two people died and 64 others were injured in the crash, while Schettino was vilified for apparently abandoning his passengers amid the chaos. He may face manslaughter charges in Italy over the accident, but he told the UK’s Telegraph he is writing a book that will "recount a completely different story and will show that I am not Captain Coward."

Find more: Costa Concordia crash

AP Photo: Sergey Ponomarev
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Pussy Riot

Let's say you're an all-women Russian feminist punk band. Is there a better target in the entire universe for your crude anti-establishment songs and flip-the-bird liberal protests than the ex-KGB head of your formerly Soviet country? The 11-or-so members of Pussy Riot have hit their bull’s-eye, Vladimir Putin, so squarely, two of them are in prison camps. The band, formed in 2011, has a worldwide following — not of music fans so much as  those who admire shock — starting with its name, for instance — and "political art." The stunt that landed three of them in legal trouble was a February "prayer" performance in a Moscow cathedral that begged the Virgin Mary to deliver them from Putin and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The three Pussy Rioters were arrested, jailed for six months, found guilty of "hooliganism" and sentenced to two years in prison. One member was later released on appeal. In November, a Moscow court banned the group’s video from the Internet in Russia for being "extremist."

Read more: Russia's jailed punk rock band members sent to prison camps

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Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly goes on killing rampage in Afghan village

In March, Americans reeled at the news that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly went on a covert nighttime killing spree in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, attacking two separate villages and leaving 16 Afghanis dead, including nine children. The incident was the worst case of civilian slaughter by a U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War. The U.S. temporarily suspended combat in Afghanistan due to the resulting uproar in the country. Protests delayed American investigators’ arrival on the scene for three weeks. The U.S. Army said in December that it would seek the death penalty in a court martial against Bales. If successful, it would be the first time the U.S. military has executed anyone since 1961.

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AP Photo: Stefan Wermuth
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Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee

This year marked the anniversary and multinational celebration of the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II. She was coroneted February 6, 1952 to the thrones of seven countries, and today she reigns over 16 sovereign states. Often a monarch takes the jubilee year to tour the countries over which they reign, and while the Queen and her consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, did so during the Golden Jubilee, this year the royal couple toured only the UK. Other royal family members divvied up the responsibilities and visited other countries in the Commonwealth realms. The largest of the Jubilee festivities took place in late May and early June. To conclude the celebrations, Queen Elizabeth released this television message: “"The events that I have attended to mark my Diamond Jubilee have been a humbling experience." Only one other British queen, Queen Victoria, has lived to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.

Related: Queen's 3-D message highlights royal family Christmas

AP Photo: Pankaj Nangia, File
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Coup in Mali

The West African nation of Mali was thrown into upheaval in March when a military coup ousted democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré, forcing him to go into hiding. Hardline Islamists, some aligned with al-Qaida, seized the opportunity to take control of a large part of the country’s northern region — roughly the size of France — and declare it an independent Islamic state. Reports followed of traditional Malian music and photos of unveiled women being banned, and people were whipped in public for drinking alcohol or smoking hashish. African Union President Yayi Boni pleaded with the UN for military intervention, prompting the rebels to make concessions in December and promise to “reject all forms of extremism and terrorism, and respect the Malian community."

Read more: Mali gets new prime minister after forced ouster

REUTERS: Handout
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Blind Chinese dissident escapes house arrest

Gruesome enforcement of China's one-baby policy was the catalyst that set Chen Guangcheng, blind since childhood, on the road to being one of 2012's most celebrated civil rights activists. Denied higher education because of his blindness, the 41-year-old self-taught "barefoot lawyer" organized a class-action suit against local officials in 2005 after learning how they forced women to be sterilized or abort full-term fetuses — by jabbing hypodermic needles full of poison into their bellies. His lawsuit earned him international recognition and a four-year prison sentence, followed by house arrest. Chen escaped in April and made it to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, despite a broken foot. But his case came at a dicey time in U.S.-China relations, and Chen returned home out of fear of reprisals to his family. Thus began an international back-and-forth that eventually landed Chen, his wife and two children in the United States as a visiting legal scholar. Though the Chinese government agreed not to order reprisals against family still in China, his nephew in November was sentenced to three years in prison for fending off an attack by local officials who discovered who his uncle was.

Find more: Chen Guangcheng

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Liberia's Charles Taylor found guilty on 11 counts of war crimes

After five years on trial, the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, in April was convicted of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. He was accused of aiding and abetting Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who killed tens of thousands of people in Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war of 1991-2002. The presiding judge, Richard Lussick, said the crimes that Taylor had committed included terror, murder, rape, enslavement and conscripting child soldiers. Although Taylor had sold diamonds and purchased weapons for the RUF, and was aware of the crimes being committed, he was not held responsible in court for controlling the rebels. In May, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Taylor was the first former head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials in Germany after WWII.

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Turmoil in Syria

It began as a protest movement among Syrians looking for reform. But in 2012, the fighting in Syria devolved into civil war, with bloody sectarian clashes and an increased likelihood of Al Qaeda involvement, pushing it near the top of the White House agenda. Some Arab leaders are now pressing for a larger U.S. role in toppling Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who reportedly has readied chemical weapons to use in the fighting. More than 44,000 Syrians have been killed in the revolt against four decades of Assad family rule.

Read more:

Syria discussing Brahimi peace proposals with Russia

Displaced Syrians face brutal winter in muddy camps

AP Photo: Amr Nabil
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A new era in Egypt

Egypt is discovering this year — its first with a democratically elected president in all its 5,162 years — how fragile a peace freedom can bring. After an Arab Spring uprising last year toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians elected Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist from the conservative Muslim Brotherhood party, in late June by a slim margin. After six months in office, his presidency is in disarray, spurred in part by Morsi granting himself sweeping powers Nov. 22 to push through a new constitution. Though he said his rationale was to protect the process and stymie Mubarak-era holdovers, Egyptians objected — violently — to the "dictatorial" move. By early December, weeks of violent street protests had killed eight people and injured more than 700. For Morsi, this is a quick, mighty fall from grace. The day before his Nov. 22 decree, he was championed by world leaders for brokering a truce in Gaza. Whether he's again a hero for moving his country toward democracy is still up in the air: Egyptians approved the constitution in a two-day vote, Dec. 15 and Dec. 22, but non-Islamists and other minorities may not be done protesting.

Read more:

Egypt's leader signs contentious constitution into law

Political turmoil takes toll on Egypt's tourism industry


AP Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis
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Britain's media woes

Scandal after scandal erupted in British media this year: phone-hacking at Rupert Murdoch's now-closed News of the World, accusations of decades of child sex abuse by the once-beloved BBC TV show host Jimmy Savile, cover-ups of his and numerous other accused perpetrators' deeds, payoffs for information, and airing of the wrong identification of a prominent politico as an abuser. Most were followed by arrests or charges or denials — except in the case of deceased Savile. The scandal even reached into Prime Minister David Cameron's office as he'd hired a NOTW journalist who was later charged. A full inquiry returned scathing reviews in December of an irresponsible, reckless press and recommended a regulator underpinned by law. Editors met afterward to set up their own regulation, surprisingly at Cameron's insistence so they would avoid politicians legislating press freedoms. In the end, the smackdown of British tabloids wasn’t surprising. The real shockers were the misdeeds at the well-regarded and highbrow British Broadcasting Corporation.

Read more: Timeline of Britain's sex abuse scandal

AP Photo: Dar Yasin
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India blackouts leave 620 million people without power

India’s energy issues ramped up into full-scale crisis at the end of July when three energy grids failed, leaving 620 million people, across 20 of India’s 28 states, without power for hours. On the heels of a smaller blackout the day before, it was the world’s largest power outage. Many people were stranded because of failed transit systems and extensive traffic jams. Two hundred miners were trapped underground until generators could be found to run elevators to bring them up. The blackout showed that India’s growing population and economic needs have outpaced the building and maintenance of its electrical infrastructure.

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AP Photo: Petros Giannakouris
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Economic chaos in Greece

In the real-life Jenga game that is the Eurozone, Greece and its nearly bankrupt economy hang precariously near the bottom. The 26 other countries in the European Union wobble every time there's news Greece might pull out of the EU. The fear is if Greece fails, other EU pillars — economies, commerce, banks, the euro itself — might fall down, too. But it's no game. Greeks are despairing over high taxes, unemployment and poverty. They’re rioting, burning buildings and storming their parliament over painful austerity measures the government must enforce so it can be deemed worthy enough for yet another bailout. In May, that was $141 million. In November, $57 billion and debt reduction. In part, Greece earned its spendthrift reputation. In the global boom of the early 2000s, it hugely boosted government pensions and invested heavily in the housing bubble. When the 2009 bust hit, sparked by U.S. banking misdeeds, Greece was in bigger trouble than, say, Germany, a "saver nation." It earned a shady reputation, for hiding its deficit with murky accounting, which EU rules do not allow. Other EU countries are also hurting and have their own rioting, suicides, evictions and protests, however the EU was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize this year.

Read more:

Greece passes 2013 austerity budget

Euro zone, IMF fail to strike Greek debt deal

AP Photo: Bernat Armangue
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Upheaval in the Middle East

The ever-uneasy stand off in Gaza blew up for eight tense days in November as Israel and Palestinian militants blasted missiles at each other, the world held its breath and the media counted the dead. "Israel will not tolerate this situation," Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu said of sporadic rocket strikes from Gaza. Then Israel hit its red line. On Nov. 14, it killed the No. 2 Hamas deputy in a pinpoint strike. From that day, missile, rocket and air strikes ramped up. Each side’s allies sent envoys to Gaza or Jerusalem to plead for an end. After days of conflicting reports that a truce was in the works, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi got credit for brokering a cease-fire, helped by last-minute pushes from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The cease-fire held and details were carved out afterward. As a complication, though, the United Nations Nov. 30 officially recognized Palestine as a nonmember state, which may give it more leverage in the world community should fighting start anew. Over eight days, five Israelis and 162 Gazans, including 37 children, were killed.

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Israeli PM vows more settlements

Israel grows wary of new Palestinian uprising

AP Photo: Matthew Hinton
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BP pays record penalty for 2010 oil spill

BP paid a heavy price for the 2010 oil spill caused by the explosion of its Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico: $4.5 billion, the biggest criminal penalty in U.S. history. The company agreed in November to plead guilty to obstruction for lying about the volume of oil that poured from the destroyed rig into the Gulf. Two BP executives were also charged with manslaughter — 11 workers died in the accident — and another was charged with obstruction. “I hope this sends a clear message to those who would engage in this wanton misconduct that there will be a penalty paid,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Related: Judge approves settlement in BP class-action suit

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The rise of Kim Jong Un

North Korea’s citizens never saw Kim Jong Un, the country's young new leader, until he was 24 — or thereabouts — when his ill dictator father started grooming him in 2010 to take over. The public isn’t sure where he was schooled, or even exactly how old he is. Nor is it clear, after Kim has served his first year as leader, precisely what economic plans he has for his desperately poor country. One improvement is sure: Kim is more modern about women. He allows Western dress and often has Ri Sol Ju, his wife, accompany him in public, unheard of in his father's regime. Kim has even been spotted at events like pop concerts. On the darker side, the world knows he's following his father's "dangerous path" for his nuclear-armed country: learning to launch and perhaps eventually arm rockets that could possibly hit the United States. In December, a rocket launched successfully — cheered by North Koreans high-fiving in the streets and decried by the world.


Baby bump for N. Korea's first lady?

How did Onion joke on Kim become real news in China?


AP Photo: Moises Castillo
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John McAfee goes on the lam in Belize

The life of John McAfee, one of the first Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to make a fortune on the Internet, took a bizarre turn on Nov. 12 when he went into hiding in Belize, his adopted home. Authorities there want to question the 67-year-old McAfee, who created the anti-virus software that bears his name, about the death of a neighbor, Gregory Viant Faull, 52, the previous day. McAfee contends the Belizean police want to kill him but Prime Minister Dean Barrow contends McAfee is “bonkers” and that police only want to question him. McAfee went underground for three weeks, using disposable cellphones and his blog to communicate and grant interviews, before crossing the border to Guatemala where he was promptly arrested for illegal entry. A heart attack scare proved to be only stress and in December McAfee was deported from Guatemala to the U.S. McAfee said he is willing to talk to police, but won't return to Belize.

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AP Photo: Denis Farrell
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Rhino killings in South Africa

In the early 1900s rhinos were nearly hunted to extinction in South Africa, but conservation efforts brought the numbers up close to 20,000 (approximately 18,000 white and 1,700 critically endangered black rhinos) in the area, now home to 90 percent of all rhinos in Africa. Now the rhinos are back in the line of fire, with 588 poachings recorded this past year. The culprit driving the killings? An Asian black market that pays dearly per kilo of rhino horn (around $95,000), and organized gangs that slip in across the borders from Mozambique and Zimbabwe into Kruger National Park, where most of the rhino killings have been discovered. Rangers and conservationists are fighting back – South Africa has announced that they will deploy a reconnaissance plane armed with thermal imaging equipment to track down and capture poachers in Kruger. Says Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which donated the plane to the park, to the Angola Press, “Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.”

Read more: Rhino killings for horns rapidly rise in S. Africa

REUTERS: Jorge Dan Lopez
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Mayan calendar's 'doomsday' prediction

Whether you’ve chuckled over the Bizarro cartoon of two ancient Mayans discussing running out of room carving a stone calendar (Punch line: “That’ll freak somebody out someday.”), or you truncated your retirement plans, it’s likely you were aware of the hullaballoo surrounding the theory of the world’s demise because the Mayan calendar’s cycle stops on December 21. This fated date in December is the completion of a 5,000-year cycle, and also the beginning of a new one, says Cornell University anthropology professor John Henderson. “The very few ancient texts that refer to Dec. 21, 2012, treat it as a calendar milestone, but do not contain prophesies of doom,” he assures. The U.S. government also published a reassuring post on its blog in order to quash the rumors, and to hopefully allay the fears of children who have written to NASA to say they are frightened. In the end, though, it wasn't the end - but that didn't stop Mayan calendar fever from reaching a mystical peak in Mexico, while travel destinations around the world aimed to cash in on the Armageddon festivities.

Read more: Explainer: How does the Mayan calendar work?