Top 10 stories of 2018: Facebook in freefall, Khashoggi affair, Brett Kavanaugh
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It was the year that Facebook's reputation went into freefall, Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated, a US president met with Kim Jong-un and Prince Harry got hitched. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the Top 10 stories of 2018.
FACEBOOK AND CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA
Whistleblower Christopher Wylie, former director of research at political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, revealed in March that the firm had harvested personal data from millions of Facebook profiles without consent and used it for political targeting.
Facebook then revealed earlier this year that a third-party personality quiz distributed on Facebook gathered profile information on 87 million users worldwide and then sold the data to Cambridge Analytica. The revelations sparked outrage internationally and forced Facebook to announce a series of changes it would be making to restrict access to client data.
In the first significant move to punish the company for its actions, the attorney general for Washington, DC, said in December the US capital city had sued Facebook for allegedly misleading users about how it safeguarded their personal data.
THE BENALLA AFFAIR
French President Emmanuel Macron became engulfed in a PR scandal when his then deputy chief of staff, Alexandre Benalla, 26, was found to have impersonated a policeman and roughed up protesters at a May Day rally.
Footage of Benalla beating a young man on the ground and pulling a woman by the hair caused widespread shock, compounded when it was revealed that Macron had known about the incident and did not report Benalla to the authorities.
The controversy continued to spiral with Macron’s high-handed handling of the case. The Élysée Palace took weeks to officially fire Benalla, he was suspended without pay for two weeks – but was later found to have been paid – and the case never went to court.
Macron, who critics have compared to the “Sun King” and who has acquired a reputation for arrogant aloofness, took six days to speak out over the affair. He shrugged off the case as “a storm in a teacup” and dared those who criticised his handling of the case to “come and get him”.
Meanwhile, the French media continued to reveal details of Benalla’s extensive access to the Élysée, the French parliament and the police.
A more serious threat to Macron’s presidency’s came later in the year in the form of the “Yellow Vest” movement.
PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE WEDDING
Prince Harry married American actress Meghan Markle at St George’s Chapel in Windsor in a service noted for its modernity and diversity on May 19. Markleentered the chapel alone and was walked partway down the aisle by Prince Charles. American Reverend Michael Curry gave a rousing sermon, referencing Martin Luther King Jr. and African-American spirituals on the power of love, and a Gospel choir sang “Stand by Me”.The bride’s dress was designed by Claire Waight Keller for Givenchy.
Queen Elizabeth II conferred on them the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
But the wedding was not without its critics. Dozens of homeless people were cleared from the streets of Windsor before the service while 1,200 members of the public invited to attend were told “to bring your own picnic”, prompting comments they were just extras for the TV coverage.
The wedding was viewed by a record 18 million people in the UK and 29 million were reported to have viewed the service from the United States, up from the 23 million Americans who watched Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s nuptials.The Duke and Duchess of Sussex later announced they would be expecting their first child in the spring of 2019.
DONALD TRUMP AND NORTH KOREA SUMMIT
Trump and North Korea’s Kim-Jong un held a nuclear summit on June 12, the first meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.The leaders signed a “comprehensive” document that committed North Korea to work towards "the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula" and promised "new relations" between Washington and Pyongyang. The two countries also vowed to build “a lasting and stable peace”.
In a move that surprised Seoul, Trump announced that the US military would discontinue its joint military exercises with South Korea, long a sticking point with Pyongyang.
But analysts remain divided on the success of the summit, saying the statement the leaders signed was extremely vague, allowing for misinterpretation on both sides.No weapons inspectors have been allowed into North Korea and no weapons facilities have yet been destroyed.
THAI CAVE RESCUE
Twelve members of the Wild Boars junior football team and their coach became trapped in Thailand’s sprawling Tham Luang cave network on June 23 when sudden, continuous rainfall blocked their exit. Nine days later on July 2, they were found by a team of British divers who had negotiated narrow passages, rising rainwaters and muddy currents in their bid to locate them.
The boys were healthy but stranded some 4 kilometres from the entrance, a journey of six hours against the current (and five hours with the current). Rescue options included teaching the boys to dive, finding or drilling another entrance, or waiting for the rainwaters to subside at the end of the monsoon season four months later.
Eventually the boys were “swum out” in an elaborate operation involving more than 100 divers. They were dressed in wetsuits and face masks, and anaesthetised so they didn’t panic. But the rescue was not without tragedy: Diver and former Navy Seal Saman Kunan, 37, lost consciousness after delivering supplies of air and could not be revived.
On July 10, just hours after the last child was carried out safely, the water pumps draining the area failed and the cave was suddenly flooded.
BRETT KAVANAUGH HEARING
Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the ninth and swing vote seat on the US Supreme Court, which has the final say on US law, on July 9. During the confirmation process he was accused of having sexually assaultedChristine Blasey Ford in 1982 when they were both in high school. Two other women later emerged with sexual misconduct allegations dating from the 1980s.
Kavanaugh emphatically denied the allegations. Democrats called for Kavanaugh to withdraw and said an FBI investigation was needed before a final confirmation vote in the Senate.
At a Senate judiciary committee hearing that was live-streamed on September 4 around the globe, Ford, who was emotional but composed, testified that she was “100 percent certain” it was Kavanaugh whohad assaulted her as a teenager– pinning her down on a bed, trying to remove her clothes and covering her mouth with his hand.
Kavanaugh hit back with heated testimony, insisting he was the victim of a "grotesque and coordinated character assassination". He said he would not be "intimidated" into withdrawing his candidacy, describing the confirmation process as a "national disgrace".
The hearing, coming on the heels of the #MeToo movement, was seen as a referendum on the political power of women in the United States. It bore strong echoes of the Anita Hill vs Thomas Clarence case some 27 years earlier.
On October 6, the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh's nomination, a key victory for Trump ahead of the November midterm elections.
At least 2,100 people were killed in a double quakeand subsequent tsunami on a remote part of Sulawesi island in September. It was the deadliest quake to strike the country since the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake, as well as the deadliest quake worldwide of 2018, surpassing the previous earthquake that struck Lombok a few months earlier, killing more than 600.
Relief efforts were hampered by severed communication and power lines. Medicines ran out and rescuers struggled with a shortage of heavy equipment to reach desperate victims calling out from the ruins of collapsed buildings.
Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
A Boxing Day quake on December 2004 triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including 168,000 in Indonesia.
THE KHASHOGGI AFFAIR
Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Khashoggi had gone to the embassy to collect documents for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée, who was waiting in vain for him outside.
The Saudis initially claimed that Khashoggi had left the embassy of his own accord. But a series of leaks from Turkish intelligence, which had bugged the embassy, revealed that Khashoggi had been tortured and dismembered with a bone saw by a 15-man hit squad that had flown in from Saudi Arabia that morning. After three weeks of denials, obfuscations and silence, the Saudis said Khashoggi died in a “fistfight”. His body has still not been found.
Evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known by his initials MBS, had ordered the murder was soon overwhelming. TheCIA concluded that MBS had given the order for Khashoggi’s execution but Trump chose to disagree with the agency’s findings.
However, the global outrage sparked by Khashoggi’s death left the oil-rich kingdom diplomatically weakened and tarnished the prince’s international reputation. The grisly slaying put Saudi human rights abuses in the spotlight, many investors shunned the kingdom’s “Davos in the Desert” forum, and the US Senate voted to end American military support for Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen.
Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist, once enjoying close ties with Saudi royals, who had fled the country in late 2017 after falling foul of MBS. He settled in the United States, where he offered criticism of his country in a regular op-ed for the Washington Post.
He was one of 54 journalists to be killed in 2018.
The Democrats’ campaign focused largely on healthcare, particularly on defending former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, while Republicans focused largely on taxes and immigration.
Democrats retook control of the House, gaining some 40 seats, giving them the power to investigate Trump and subpoena his administration: A record number of women contenders and candidates of colour were elected to office. Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman elected to Congress in Massachusetts while in New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to the US Congress. Two Muslim women (Ilhan Omar andRashida Tlaib) and two Native American women (Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids)will also be joining Congress.
YELLOW VEST PROTESTS
Macron’s presidency is facing its greatest challenge yet from the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protests, named after the high-visibility neon jackets worn by demonstrators. The protests, which began in mid-November, were initially sparked by a proposed rise in the fuel tax but quickly escalated into expressions of wider discontent with Macron’s policies.
The protests, organised largely on Facebook, began with roadblocks across the country on consecutive Saturdays and soon spread to the French capital. On December 2, police were overrun by violent riots and central Paris saw its worst riots in the last five decades. Protests at dozens of schools over university reforms, and a call by farmers for demonstrations, led to a sense of general revolt.
Macron had previously vowed to stay the course in his bid to shake up the French economy and not be swayed by mass protests that have forced previous presidents to back down. But he was forced to bow to protesters’ demands and suspend the fuel tax rise due to come into force on January 1.
He did, however, rule out bringing back a wealth tax, one of the protesters’ demands, cementing his reputation (for some) as a “president of the rich”.
Ten people have so far died in incidents linked to the demonstrations, mostly in accidents at roadblocks set up by the protesters.
A December IFOP poll showed Macron’s popularity had dropped to a new low of 23percent.