18-year-old Ryan White, national symbol of the AIDS crisis, dies

Year
1990
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, 1990, 18-year-old Ryan White dies of pneumonia, due to having contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. He had been given six months to live in December of 1984 but defied expectations and lived for five more years, during which time his story helped educate the public and dispel widespread misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.

White suffered from hemophilia and thus required weekly blood transfusions. On December 17, 1984, just after his 13th birthday, he was diagnosed with AIDS, which he had contracted from one such transfusion. It was later revealed that roughly 90 percent of American hemophiliacs who had received similar treatments between 1979 and 1984 suffered the same fate. White was given six months to live, but recovered from the illness that had brought his disease to light and eventually felt healthy enough to return to school.

Though the scientific community knew that AIDS could only be transmitted through bodily fluids, the community around White’s Russiaville, Indiana school was paranoid that he would contaminate his classmates. White was denied entry to his school, and when the Indiana Department of Education ruled that he must be admitted the local school board unanimously voted to appeal the decision. From August of 1985 until the following June, White’s family and their opponents—who at one point held a fundraiser in the school gymnasium to support the cause of keeping him out—fought a legal battle that garnered national headlines. A diverse array of public figures appeared with White and spoke on his behalf, including Elton John, Michael Jackson, Alyssa Milano, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and former President Ronald Reagan.

White was eventually allowed to return to school and spent his remaining years living a relatively normal life, although he made regular media appearances in an effort to educate the public about his illness. By the time of his death, just months before he was to graduate high school, White had become one of the leading figures in the movement to destigmatize HIV/AIDS. Several months later, the Ryan White CARE Act became federal law, providing a dramatic boost in funding for the treatment of low-income and un-insured people with HIV/AIDS.

READ MORE: The History of AIDS

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Ireland grants a divorce for the first time in the country’s history


Year
1997
Month Day
January 17

The Republic of Ireland legally grants a divorce for the first time following a 1995 referendum. The first divorce in Ireland, granted to a terminally ill man who wished to marry his new partner, was a harbinger of the decline of the Catholic Church’s power over the Republic.

The Irish Constitution of 1937 specifically forbade divorce. Though the constitution prohibits the state from adopting an official religion, Ireland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and the original document contained many elements of Catholic doctrine. The Church played an outsized role in Irish public life, even by the standards of other heavily Catholic countries. Italy, for example, had legalized divorce by 1970. In 1986, the Irish government put the issue up to a nationwide referendum, but 63.5 percent voted against amending the constitution. A law allowing legal separation passed in 1989. After coming to power in 1994, a “Rainbow Coalition” government composed of center-left parties one again propagated a referendum on amending the constitution to allow divorce.

Both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa publicly endorsed the “No” side, a sign of the seriousness with which the Church opposed this perceived challenge to its authority. Nonetheless, the Church conceded that it would not be a sin for Catholics to vote “Yes.” Ultimately, the “Yes” campaign ran up huge numbers in urban areas, winning by the razor-thin margin of 50.3 percent to 49.7. Numerous attempts were made to challenge the result, but to no avail.

Although the 1995 referendum only legalized divorce in cases where couples had been separated for at least four years, proponents of the separation of church and state hailed it as a victory to build upon.

“We’re bringing Ireland into the 20 Century at the dawn of the 21,” said Mags O’Brien, a pro-divorce campaigner. Similarly “overdue” reforms would follow. 2015 saw the legalization of same-sex marriage with 61 percent of the vote, and 66 percent of voters approved an amendment to legalize abortion in 2018. In 2019, another amendment greatly relaxed the requirements for obtaining a legal divorce, doing away with the period of separation. 

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Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia kills 19 U.S. airmen

Year
1996
Month Day
June 25

On June 25, 1996, a tanker truck loaded with 25,000 pounds of explosives rips through the U.S. Air Force military housing complex Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding nearly 500 others.

The terrorist attack that blew off much of the eight-story Building 131, leaving a crater 50 feet wide and 16 feet deep, was the deadliest attack against U.S. forces since the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 dead.

The bombers, later identified as members of the pro-Iran Islamic militant group Hezbollah, parked the truck near the towers that were home to 2,000 American military personnel who were assigned to the King Abdul Aziz Air Base to patrol southern Iraqi no-fly zones. They escaped before setting off the explosion.

Investigators found the attack had been planned for more than three years by members of the Saudi Hezbollah, with backing from Iran, as a way to force U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Hezbollah and Iran were found guilty by a U.S. federal court in 2006, and Iran was ordered to pay $254.5 million to survivors. That money has not been collected.

In 2001, 13 Saudis and one Lebanese man were indicted in the attack by the U.S., with Attorney General John Ashcroft stating “… the Iranian government inspired, supported and supervised members of Saudi Hezbollah.” Charges included conspiracy to kill Americans and U.S. employees, to use weapons of mass destruction and to destroy U.S. property, plus murder and bombing.

Iran denied involvement in the attack, and Saudi Arabia said they would not extradite those charged who were in their custody. None of the indicted have been brought to court.

Nearly 20 years later, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil, a key Hezbollah operative implicated in the attack, was captured and arrested in Beirut in 2015 and moved to Saudi Arabia for interrogation. In 2018, Iran was ordered to pay victims $104.7 million by a U.S. federal judge. 

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The euro debuts


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Year
1999
Month Day
January 04

New Year’s Day is the dawn of a new era in Europe, as 11 nations adopt a single currency, the euro. Now the official currency of 19 members of the European Union, as well as the nations of Kosovo and Montenegro, the euro’s introduction had a profound effect on the global economy and was a watershed moment in the continent’s history.

Beginning in the 1970s, European leaders had discussed creating a single currency. The plan became official with 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which formed the European Union and paved the way for the creation of a single European currency. The new currency’s name was unveiled in 1995. On December 31, 1998 11 countries “locked in” their exchange rates relative to each other and to the euro. At midnight, their currencies officially ceased to exist. For the next three years, the “legacy currencies” remained legal tender, but electronic transfers and other non-physical monetary transactions began to use euros. Greece would join the Eurozone between this initial introduction and the currency’s debut in physical form.

Mints throughout Europe printed 7.4 billion notes and struck 38.2 billion coins to ensure enough euros would be available by 1/1/2002. Banks issued “starter packs” containing small amounts of euros starting in December 2001 to familiarize people with the new money. Finally, a year later, the euro formally entered the world as legal tender. The first official purchase took place on the far-flung French island of Réunion, where euros were used to purchase a pound of lychees. Over the next two months, participating nations officially had two currencies in order to give people time to adjust. Businesses advertised prices both in euros and in legacy currencies, and some were accused of using the switch as an excuse to raise prices. Overall, however, the process of creating a new currency for a population of over 300 million people went remarkably smoothly.

The euro has long been a source of controversy. Conservatives in the United Kingdom opposed the idea of a European currency, and both the UK and Denmark negotiated opt-outs despite their membership in the EU. The eurozone’s greatest test came during the European sovereign debt crisis, which began in 2009, as many central banks dealing in euros were unable to pay their debts and were bailed out by other eurozone nations or EU institutions. Despite continued concerns, seven EU nations have met the criteria and acceded to the euro since 2002, and the nations of Kosovo and Montenegro have also adopted it as their official currency.

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Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega surrenders to U.S.


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Year
1990
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the streets of Panama City rejoiced. On July 10, 1992, the former dictator was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Noriega, who was born in Panama in 1938, was a loyal soldier to General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup. Under Torrijos, Noriega headed up the notorious G-2 intelligence service, which harassed and terrorized people who criticized the Torrijos regime. Noriega also became a C.I.A. operative, while at the same time getting rich smuggling drugs.

In 1981, Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash and after a two-year power struggle, Noriega emerged as general of Panama’s military forces. He became the country’s de facto leader, fixing presidential elections so he could install his own puppet officials. Noriega’s rule was marked by corruption and violence. He also became a double agent, selling American intelligence secrets to Cuba and Eastern European governments. In 1987, when Panamanians organized protests against Noriega and demanded his ouster, he declared a national emergency, shut down radio stations and newspapers and forced his political enemies into exile.

That year the United States cut off aid to Panama and tried to get Noriega to resign; in 1988, the U.S. began considering the use of military action to put an end to his drug trafficking. Noriega voided the May 1989 presidential election, which included a U.S.-backed candidate, and in December of that year he declared his country to be in a state of war with the United States. Shortly afterward, an American marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. President George H.W. Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause,” and on December 20, 1989, 13,000 U.S. troops were sent to occupy Panama City, along with the 12,000 already there, and seize Noriega. During the invasion, 23 U.S. troops were killed in action and over 300 were wounded. Approximately 450 Panamanian troops were killed; estimates for the number of civilians who died range from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more injured.

Noriega, derogatorily nicknamed “Pineapple Face” in reference to his pockmarked skin, died in Panama City, Panama, on May 29, 2017.

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Russian forces enter Chechnya


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Year
1994
Month Day
December 11

In the largest Russian military offensive since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks pour into the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. Encountering only light resistance, Russian forces had by evening pushed to the outskirts of the Chechen capital of Grozny, where several thousand Chechen volunteers vowed a bitter fight against the Russians.

With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya, like many of the other republics encompassed by the former Soviet Union, declared its independence. However, unlike Georgia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the other former Soviet states, Chechnya held only the barest autonomy under Soviet rule and was not considered one of the 15 official Soviet republics. Instead, Chechnya is regarded as one of many republics within the Russian Federation. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who permitted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, would not tolerate the secession of a state within territorial Russia.

About the size of Connecticut and located in southeastern Russia on the Caspian Sea, Chechnya was conquered by the Russians in the 1850s as the Russian empire pushed south toward the Middle East. Its people are largely Muslim and fiercely independent, and the region has been a constant irritant to its Russian and Soviet rulers.

In August 1991, Dzhozkhar Dudayev, a Chechen politician and former Soviet air force general, toppled Chechnya’s local communist government and established an anti-Russian autocratic state. President Yeltsin feared the secession of Chechnya would prompt a domino effect of independence movements within the vast Russian Federation. He also hoped to recover Chechnya’s valuable oil resources. After ineffective attempts at funding Chechen opposition groups, a Russian invasion began on December 11, 1994.

After the initial gains of the Russian army, the Chechen rebels demonstrated a fierce resistance in Grozny, and thousands of Russian troops died and many more Chechen civilians were killed during almost two years of heavy fighting. In August 1996, Grozny was retaken by the Chechen rebels after a year of Russian occupation, and a cease-fire was declared. In 1997, the last humiliated Russian troops left Chechnya. Despite a peace agreement that left Chechnya a de facto independent state, Chechnya remained officially part of Russia.

In 1999, Yeltsin’s government ordered a second invasion of Chechnya after bombings in Moscow and other cities were linked to Chechen militants. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s handpicked successor as Russian leader, said of the Chechen terrorists, “we will rub them out, even in the toilet.” In 2000, President Putin escalated Russian military involvement in Chechnya after terrorist bombings in Russian cities continued. In this second round of post-Soviet fighting in Chechnya, the Russian army has been accused of many atrocities in its efforts to suppress Chechen militancy. A peace agreement remains elusive.

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First NATO Military Action


Year
1994
Month Day
February 28

In the first military action in the 45-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. fighter planes shoot down four Serbian warplanes engaged in a bombing mission in violation of Bosnia’s no-fly zone.

The United States, 10 European countries, and Canada founded NATO in 1949 as a safeguard against Soviet aggression. With the end of the Cold War, NATO members approved the use of its military forces for peacekeeping missions in countries outside the alliance and in 1994 agreed to enforce U.N. resolutions enacted to bring about an end to the bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In 1994 and 1995, NATO planes enforced the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina and struck at Bosnian Serb military positions and airfields on a number of occasions.

On December 20, 1995, NATO began the mass deployment of 60,000 troops to enforce the Dayton peace accords, signed in Paris by the leaders of the former Yugoslavia on December 14. The NATO troops took over from a U.N. peacekeeping force that had failed to end the fighting since its deployment in early 1992, although the U.N. troops had proved crucial in the distribution of humanitarian aid to the impoverished population of Bosnia. The NATO force, with its U.S. support and focused aim of enforcing the Dayton agreement, proved more successful in maintaining the peace in the war-torn region.

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NATO bombs Yugoslavia


Year
1999
Month Day
March 24

On March 24, 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commences air strikes against Yugoslavia with the bombing of Serbian military positions in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The NATO offensive came in response to a new wave of ethnic cleansing launched by Serbian forces against the Kosovar Albanians on March 20.

The Kosovo region lay at the heart of the Serbian empire in the late Middle Ages but was lost to the Ottoman Turks in 1389 following Serbia’s defeat in the Battle of Kosovo. By the time Serbia regained control of Kosovo from Turkey in 1913, there were few Serbs left in a region that had come to be dominated by ethnic Albanians. In 1918, Kosovo formally became a province of Serbia, and it continued as such after communist leader Josip Broz Tito established the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1945, comprising the Balkan states of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia. However, Tito eventually gave in to Kosovar demands for greater autonomy, and after 1974 Kosovo existed as independent state in all but name.

Serbs came to resent Kosovo’s autonomy, which allowed it to act against Serbian interests, and in 1987 Slobodan Milosevic was elected leader of Serbia’s Communist Party with a promise of restoring Serbian rule to Kosovo. In 1989, Milosevic became president of Serbia and moved quickly to suppress Kosovo, stripping its autonomy and in 1990 sending troops to disband its government. Meanwhile, Serbian nationalism led to the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation in 1991, and in 1992 the Balkan crisis deteriorated into civil war. A new Yugoslav state, consisting only of Serbia and the small state of Montenegro, was created, and Kosovo began four years of nonviolent resistance to Serbian rule.

The militant Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) emerged in 1996 and began attacking Serbian police in Kosovo. With arms obtained in Albania, the KLA stepped up its attacks in 1997, prompting a major offensive by Serbian troops against the rebel-held Drenica region in February-March 1998. Dozens of civilians were killed, and enlistment in the KLA increased dramatically. In July, the KLA launched an offensive across Kosovo, seizing control of nearly half the province before being routed in a Serbian counteroffensive later that summer. The Serbian troops drove thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes and were accused of massacring Kosovo civilians.

In October, NATO threatened Serbia with air strikes, and Milosevic agreed to allow the return of tens of thousands of refugees. Fighting soon resumed, however, and talks between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs in Rambouillet, France, in February 1999 ended in failure. On March 18, further peace talks in Paris collapsed after the Serbian delegation refused to sign a deal calling for Kosovo autonomy and the deployment of NATO troops to enforce the agreement. Two days later, the Serbian army launched a new offensive in Kosovo. On March 24, NATO air strikes began.

In addition to Serbian military positions, the NATO air campaign targeted Serbian government buildings and the country’s infrastructure in an effort to destabilize the Milosevic regime. The bombing and continued Serbian offensives drove hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Many of these refugees were airlifted to safety in the United States and other NATO nations. On June 10, the NATO bombardment ended when Serbia agreed to a peace agreement calling for the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and their replacement by NATO peacekeeping troops.

With the exception of two U.S. pilots killed in a training mission in Albania, no NATO personnel lost their lives in the 78-day operation. There were some mishaps, however, such as miscalculated bombings that led to the deaths of Kosovar Albanian refugees, KLA members, and Serbian civilians. The most controversial incident was the May 7 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three Chinese journalists and caused a diplomatic crisis in U.S.-Chinese relations.

On June 12, NATO forces moved into Kosovo from Macedonia. The same day, Russian troops arrived in the Kosovo capital of Pristina and forced NATO into agreeing to a joint occupation. Despite the presence of peacekeeping troops, the returning Kosovar Albanians retaliated against Kosovo’s Serbian minority, forcing them to flee into Serbia. Under the NATO occupation, Kosovar autonomy was restored, but the province remained officially part of Serbia.

Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power by a popular revolution in Belgrade in October 2000. He was replaced by the popularly elected Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate Serbian nationalist who promised to reintegrate Serbia into Europe and the world after a decade of isolation.

Slobodan Milosevic died in prison in the Netherlands on March 11, 2006, during his trial for crimes against humanity and genocide. Due to his death, the court returned no verdict.

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LAPD officers beat Rodney King on camera


Year
1991
Month Day
March 03

At 12:45 a.m. on March 3, 1991, robbery parolee Rodney G. King stops his car after leading police on a nearly 8-mile pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles, California. The chase began after King, who was intoxicated, was caught speeding on a freeway by a California Highway Patrol cruiser but refused to pull over. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) cruisers and a police helicopter joined the pursuit, and when King was finally stopped by Hansen Dam Park, several police cars descended on his white Hyundai.

A group of LAPD officers led by Sergeant Stacey Koon ordered King and the other two occupants of the car to exit the vehicle and lie flat on the ground. King’s two friends complied, but King himself was slower to respond, getting on his hands and knees rather than lying flat. Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Ted Briseno, and Roland Solano tried to force King down, but he resisted, and the officers stepped back and shot King twice with an electric stun gun known as a Taser, which fires darts carrying a charge of 50,000 volts.

At this moment, civilian George Holliday, standing on a balcony in an apartment complex across the street, focused the lens of his new video camera on the commotion unfolding by Hansen Dam Park. In the first few seconds of what would become a very famous 89-second video, King is seen rising after the Taser shots and running in the direction of Officer Powell. The officers alleged that King was charging Powell, while King himself later claimed that an officer told him, “We’re going to kill you, n*****. Run!” and he tried to flee. All the arresting officers were white, along with all but one of the other two dozen or so law enforcement officers present at the scene. With the roar of a helicopter above, very few commands or remarks are audible in the video.

With King running in his direction, Powell swung his baton, hitting him on the side of the head and knocking him to the ground. This action was captured by the video, but the next 10 seconds were blurry as Holliday shifted the camera. From the 18- to 30-second mark in the video, King attempted to rise, and Powell and Wind attacked him with a torrent of baton blows that prevented him from doing so. From the 35- to 51-second mark, Powell administered repeated baton blows to King’s lower body. At 55 seconds, Powell struck King on the chest, and King rolled over and lay prone. At that point, the officers stepped back and observed King for about 10 seconds. Powell began to reach for his handcuffs.

At 65 seconds on the video, Officer Briseno stepped roughly on King’s upper back or neck, and King’s body writhed in response. Two seconds later, Powell and Wind again began to strike King with a series of baton blows, and Wind kicked him in the neck six times until 86 seconds into the video. At about 89 seconds, King put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed.

Sergeant Koon never made an effort to stop the beating, and only one of the many officers present briefly intervened, raising his left arm in front of a baton-swinging colleague in the opening moments of the videotape, to no discernible effect. An ambulance was called, and King was taken to the hospital. Struck as many as 56 times with the batons, he suffered a fractured leg, multiple facial fractures, and numerous bruises and contusions. Unaware that the arrest was videotaped, the officers downplayed the level of violence used to arrest King and filed official reports in which they claimed he suffered only cuts and bruises “of a minor nature.”

George Holliday sold his video of the beating to the local television station, KTLA, which broadcast the footage and sold it to the national Cable News Network (CNN). The widely broadcast video caused outrage around the country and triggered a national debate on police brutality. Rodney King was released without charges, and on March 15 Sergeant Koon and officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno were indicted by a Los Angeles grand jury in connection with the beating. All four were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. Though Koon did not actively participate in the beating, as the commanding officer he was charged with aiding and abetting it. Powell and Koon were also charged with filing false reports.

Because of the uproar in Los Angeles surrounding the incident, the judge, Stanley Weisberg, was persuaded to move the trial outside Los Angeles County to Simi Valley in Ventura County. On April 29, 1992, the 12-person jury issued its verdicts: not guilty on all counts, except for one assault charge against Powell that ended in a hung jury. The acquittals touched off the L.A. riots, and arson, looting, murder and assaults in the city grew into the most destructive U.S. civil disturbance of the 20th century. In three days of violence, more than 60 people were killed, more than 2,000 were injured, and nearly $1 billion in property was destroyed. On May 1, President George H.W. Bush ordered military troops and riot-trained federal officers to Los Angeles to quell the riot.

Under federal law, the officers could also be prosecuted for violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights, and on April 17, 1993, a federal jury convicted Koon and Powell for violating King’s rights by their unreasonable use of force under color of law. Although Wind and Briseno were acquitted, most civil rights advocates considered the mixed verdict a victory. On August 4, Koon and Powell were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the beating of King. King received $3.8 million in a civil suit against the Los Angeles police department. On June 17, 2012, King died at his home in Rialto, California.

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President Clinton punishes Iraq for plot to kill George H.W. Bush

Year
1993
Month Day
June 26

In retaliation for an Iraqi plot to assassinate former U.S. President George H.W. Bush during his April visit to Kuwait, President Bill Clinton orders U.S. warships to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at Iraqi intelligence headquarters in downtown Baghdad.

On April 13, 1993, the day before George Bush was scheduled to visit Kuwait and be honored for his victory in the Persian Gulf War, Kuwaiti authorities foiled a car-bomb plot to assassinate him. Fourteen suspects, most of them Iraqi nationals, were arrested, and the next day their massive car bomb was discovered in Kuwait City. Citing “compelling evidence” of the direct involvement of Iraqi intelligence in the assassination attempt, President Clinton ordered a retaliatory attack against their alleged headquarters in the Iraqi capital on June 26. Twenty-three Tomahawk missiles, each costing more than a million dollars, were fired off the USS Peterson in the Red Sea and the cruiser USS Chancellorsville in the Persian Gulf, destroying the building and, according to Iraqi accounts, killing several civilians.

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