September 2008 Current Events

Here are the key news events of the month organized into three categories: World News, U.S. News, and Business, Society, and Science News.

World | Nation | Business/Science/Society

  • Japanese Prime Minister Resigns (Sep. 1): Yasuo Fakuda, who has been in office barely a year, announces that he will step down when his party, the Liberal Democrats, select his successor. In June 2008, the upper house of Parliament, which is controlled by the opposition, censured Fukuda, citing his management of domestic issues. The lower house, however, supported him in a vote of confidence.
  • U.S. Transfers Control of Once Troubled Province to Iraq (Sep. 1): The Iraqi military and police assume responsibility for maintaining security in Anbar Province, which was until recently the cradle of the Sunni insurgency. More than 1,000 members of the U.S. military have been killed in the province.
  • Thai Government Declares State of Emergency When Protests Turn Violent (Sep. 1): One person is killed and dozens are wounded in fighting between supporters of an opposition group and pro-government demonstrators. For more than a week, thousands of protesters, called People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), have staged a sit-in outside the government buildings in Bangkok, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Pro-government launched counterdemonstrations. (Sep. 2): Prime Minister Samak declares a state of emergency. (Sep. 3): The military and police do not enforce the state of emergency. In a press conference, army commander Gen. Anupong Paochinda declares neutrality in the conflict. "We are not taking sides," he says. "If the nation is the people, we are the army of the people." (Sep. 9): Samak is forced from office when Thailand's Constitutional Court rules that he violated the constitution by being paid to appear on the cooking show "Tasting and Complaining." Somchai Wongsawat, the first deputy prime minister, becomes acting prime minister. (Sep. 14): Acting prime minister Somchai ends the state of emergency, which has disrupted the tourism industry. (Sep. 17): Parliament elects Somchai prime minister, 298 to 163.
  • U.S. Report on Civilian Deaths in Attack on Afghans Conflicts With Other Accounts (Sep. 2): A U.S. military report on the number of civilian casualties incurred in an August airstrike by U.S. troops on a village in Azizabad finds that five to seven civilians and 30 to 35 Taliban were killed. The UN and the Afghan government, however, say as many as 90 Afghan civilians, 60 of them children, died.
  • U.S. Troops Attack Militants in Pakistan (Sep. 3): In its first acknowledged ground attack inside Pakistan, U.S. commandos raid a village that is home to al-Qaeda militants in the tribal region near the border with Afghanistan. The number of casualties is unclear.
  • Governing Party Wins Parliamentary Elections in Angola (Sep. 5): In the country's first elections in 16 years, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) wins about 82% of the vote in the legislative election. The opposition, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), takes 10%.
  • Bhutto's Widower Is Elected President of Pakistan (Sep. 6): Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, wins 481 out of 702 votes in the two houses of Parliament to become president. Zardari, who served 11 years in prison on charges of corruption, faces the overwhelming task of rooting out members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, who control much of the country's tribal areas. He also promises to improve the relationship between Parliament and the presidency.
  • International Regulator Allows India to Buy Nuclear Fuel (Sep. 6): The Nuclear Suppliers Group, comprised of representatives from 45 countries, votes to allow India to buy nuclear fuel for its reactors as long as it uses the fuel for civilian purposes only. The U.S. Congress must approve the agreement. The opposition party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is against the deal, calling it a "nonproliferation trap." The deal could be scrapped if India uses the fuel for its weapons program.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Calls for Early Elections (Sep. 7): Stephen Harper requests that Parliament be dissolved and sets national elections for October 14. He hopes to win enough votes to hold a majority in Parliament; he now heads a minority Conservative government.
  • Three Convicted in Plot to Blow Up Planes (Sep. 8): Three men, out of eight who were on trial, are found guilty in a British court of conspiracy to commit murder. The defendants were arrested in 2006 for trying to use liquid explosives to blow up seven planes that were traveling from the UK to the U.S. and Canada. They are acquitted of the more serious charge of preparing acts of terrorism.
  • Russia Agrees to Withdraw from Georgia (Sep. 8): Russian president Dmitri A. Medvedev says he will remove troops from Georgia by mid-October and will permit 200 observers from the European Union to keep watch over the conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which began on Aug. 7 when Georgia attacked the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia. Russia stepped in to defend South Ossetia. (Sep. 10): Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov disputes that Russia agreed to allow European Union monitors into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Instead, he says they will work in Georgia, outside the breakaway enclaves.
  • Judge Drops Case Against South African Leader (Sep. 12): A High Court judge dismisses corruption charges against African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, saying the government mishandled the prosecution. The ruling clears the way for Zuma to succeed Thabo Mbeki as president of South Africa. The judge also criticizes President Mbeki for attempting to influence the prosecution of Zuma.
  • Several Bombs Tear Through Indian Capital (Sep. 13): Over the course of 25 minutes, five bombs explode in crowded markets in New Delhi, killing 22 people and injuring dozens. The Indian Mujahideen claims responsibility for the attacks.
  • Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Deal in Zimbabwe (Sep. 15): President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who defeated Mugabe 48% to 43% in March elections but boycotted the June runoff election because of voter intimidation, will share executive authority over the country. Tsvangirai will serve as prime minister and the opposition will control 16 ministries. The governing party will control 15; Mugabe will continue as president.
  • Military Command in Iraq Changes Hands (Sep. 16): U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno succeeds Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. Petraeus, who oversaw the surge of troops into Iraq, will become commander of the U.S. Central Command that covers all of the Middle East.
  • Two Bombs Explode at U.S. Embassy in Yemen (Sep. 17): A car bomb and a rocket hit the U.S. embassy in Yemen as staff arrived to work, killing 16 people, including four civilians. At least 25 suspected al-Qaeda militants are arrested in connection with the attack.
  • Dozens Are Killed in Blast at Popular Hotel in Pakistan (Sep. 20): A truck bomb explodes outside the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds. The bomb went off as government leaders, including the president and prime minister, were dining a few hundred yards away, at the prime minister's residence. A previously unknown group, Fedayeen Islam, takes responsibility for the attack.
  • South Africa's President Announces Resignation (Sep. 21): Under pressure from leaders of his party, the African National Congress (ANC), Thabo Mbeki says he has stepped down. Party leaders accused Mbeki of interfering in the corruption case against ANC leader Jacob Zuma. An interim president will take over until Jacob Zuma, the leader of the ruling ANC, runs for Parliament. Once a member of Parliament, Zuma is expected to become president. Mbeki served as president since 1999. (Sep. 24): Mbeki's deputy and 10 members of his cabinet also resign. Six ministers say they will not serve in a new government. (Sep. 25): Parliament elects Kgalema Motlanthe, a labor leader who was imprisoned during apartheid, as president.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Steps Down (Sep. 21): Ehud Olmert, who is under investigation for corruption, resigns as prime minister. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was recently elected the head of Olmert's party, Kadima, is expected to succeed Olmert if she can maintain the fragile governing coalition.
  • Ruling Party in Japan Selects New Leader (Sep. 22): Taro Aso, a conservative and former foreign minister, is elected president of the governing Liberal Democratic Party. (Sep. 24): The lower house of Parliament elects Aso as prime minister. He promises to restore the flagging economy.
  • Myanmar Releases Thousands of Prisoners (Sep. 23): Just over 9,000 prisoners are released by the military government, including the longest-serving political prisoner, Win Tin. Most of those released, however, are not political prisoners. By most estimates, as many as 2,000 political prisoners remain in detention.
  • Iraq Passes Scaled-Down Election Law (Sep. 24): Parliament passes a much-anticipated law that calls for provincial elections to be held in early 2009. Elections had originally been scheduled for October 2008. Elections, however, in the disputed city of Kirkuk are postponed until a separate agreement is reached by a committee made up of representatives from each group involved in the dispute over the future of Kirkuk.
  • Car Bomb Explodes in Syrian Capital (Sep. 27): A powerful bomb, made of more than 400 pounds of explosives, kills 17 people near a Shiite shrine in Damascus. It's Syria's worst attack in more than 20 years. Terrorism is suspected.
  • Five Bombs Kill Dozens in Baghdad (Sep. 28): At least 27 people die and more than 80 are wounded in the bombs that occur throughout the day.

World | Nation | Business/Science/Society

  • Hurricane Affects Opening of the Republican National Convention (Sep. 1): With Hurricane Gustav heading toward New Orleans, which was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, Sen. John McCain scales back the first day of the Republican National Convention, making it a business-only affair without the celebratory mood and speeches. McCain's choice for vice president, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, announces that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant. (Sep. 2): President Bush delivers a speech via video from the White House, saying McCain is the man most fit to become president. "We live in a dangerous world,” Bush says. “And we need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain.” (Sep. 3): In her address at the Republican National Convention, which was widely praised, Sarah Palin mocks Sen. Barack Obama's role as a community organizer in Chicago, portrays herself as an outsider, and outlines her Alaska upbringing and professional experience. "Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown,” Palin says. “And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities." Shortly after her speech, delegates select Sen. John McCain as the Republican presidential nominee. (Sep. 4): In his acceptance speech, Sen. McCain calls for change from the status quo and indicates that he will not always tow the party line. "Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second crowd: Change is coming," he says.
    Palin family celebrate with McCain
    Palin family celebrates with McCain. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith
  • Report Finds That Former Attorney General Mishandled Sensitive Documents (Sep. 2): The Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn Fine, concludes that Alberto Gonzales improperly handled top secret information relating to the National Security Agency's wiretapping program and the Bush administration's prisoner interrogation program. The report says Gonzales stored documents in his home or in a personal safe at the Justice Department, which violated security protocol.
  • Detroit Mayor Steps Down (Sep. 3): As part of a plea deal, Kwame M. Kilpatrick pleads guilty to two felony charges of obstruction of justice and agrees to resign from office, serve four months in jail, and pay $1 million in restitution to end a scandal stemming from his attempts to conceal a past affair with his former chief of staff.
  • Reports Find Interior Department Agency Riddled by Scandal (Sep. 10): The Interior Department's inspector general sumbits reports to Congress that detail how officials in the department's Minerals and Management Service accepted gifts from energy companies in excess of ethics limits, engaged in sexual relationships with subordinates and employees of oil and gas companies, and used illegal drugs at industry events.
  • House Passes a Bill to Expand Offshore Drilling (Sep. 16): Legislation would allow drilling for oil 50 miles off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts if all adjacent states agree and 100 miles out regardless of a state's position on drilling. The measure, which passes, 236 to 189, also cuts some tax benefits for oil companies and calls on utilities to produce 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Congress Approves a Civil Rights Bill (Sep.17): The House of Representatives votes in favor of a bill that broadens the definition of disability to include epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other illnesses. The Senate had already unanimously passed the legislation, which overturns recent Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the definition of disability and made it difficult for workers to prove discrimination.
  • Presidential Candidates Face Off in First Debate (Sep. 26): At the end of a tumultuous week in which the country's financial system teetered on the brink of collapse, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama agree that the government should intervene in the crisis, but conditions and safeguards must be included in any bailout package. Obama blames the Bush adminstration's failed economic policy for the turmoil. On foreign policy, the candidates attack each other over the war in Iraq. McCain lashes out at Obama for not supporting the surge of troops that has led to a decrease in violence in Iraq. The debate, which takes place at the University of Mississippi, was up in the air until midday, as McCain had said that he would not participate in the debate in order to deal with the financial situation.
  • House Approves Nuclear Deal with India (Sep. 27): Votes, 298 to 117, to end the ban on trading nuclear fuel with India. Congressional approval is necessary for the implementation of a pact that will allow India to buy nuclear fuel on the world market for its reactors as long as it uses the fuel for civilian purposes only. The ban was imposed by the U.S. in 1974 after India tested a nuclear weapon.
  • Investigation Finds Political Motiviation Was Behind Prosecutor Dismissals (Sep. 29): An internal inquiry by the Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility reports “significant evidence that political partisan considerations were an important factor in the removal of several of the U.S. attorneys.” Nine federal prosecutors were fired in 2006. The report is highly critical of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, who resigned in the scandal, saying he was "remarkably unengaged" throughout the dismissal process and faulted his "extraordinary lack of recollection about the entire removal process" in his testimony to Congress. It also says the Bush administration's unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation led to an incomplete understanding of the scandal. Attorney General Michael Mukasey requests that federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy continue the investigation to determine if anyone involved should face criminal charges.

World | Nation | Business/Science/Society

  • New Orleans Spared Another Catastrophic Hurricane (Sep. 1): Hurricane Gustav, which was on a path toward New Orleans as a Category 5 storm, makes landfall in rural Louisiana, southwest of New Orleans, as a Category 2 storm. About two million people evacuated New Orleans in anticipation of a devastating storm. At least seven people die in the storm and more than one million homes are left without power.
  • China Admits Shoddy Construction of May Have Caused Schools to Collapse in Earthquakes (Sep. 4): For the first time, the Chinese government acknowledges that poor construction of hastily built schools possibly contributed to their collapse in the May 12 earthquake that killed 70,000 people, including 10,000 students.
  • U.S. Financial Markets Roiled by Turmoil (Sep. 7): The U.S. government places Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, companies that together hold more than half of the country's mortgages, under government conservatorship, which is akin to bankruptcy reorganization. U.S. treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., says the move was crucial to avoid turmoil in the national and international economies. "This turmoil would directly and negatively impact household wealth: from family budgets, to home values, to savings for college and retirement,” he says. “A failure would affect the ability of Americans to get home loans, auto loans and other consumer credit and business finance. And a failure would be harmful to economic growth and job creation.” (Sep. 14): Merrill Lynch agrees to be acquired by Bank of America for $50 billion, and Lehman Brothers prepares to declare bankruptcy when it fails to find a buyer. Merrill Lynch was valued at more than $100 billion in the past year. (Sep. 15): The Dow Jones industrial average drops more than 500 points, or 4.4%, amid concerns over a financial crisis. It is the worst one-day loss since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition, Lehman Brothers goes ahead and declares bankruptcy. (Sep. 16): The Federal Reserve agrees to a $85 billion rescue of the American International Group, an enormous insurance company that covers financial institutions. (Sep. 20): The Bush administration seeks authority from Congress to allow the Treasury Department to buy up to $700 billion in bad mortgage assets from private investment companies. If approved, the deal will be the largest bailout in U.S. history. The Treasury would hire outside investment experts to manage the securities. (Sep. 22): Congres begins debating the bailout package, with Democrats insisting that any plan include relief for Americans burdened by mortgages they can't afford. In addition, many lawmakers, skeptical of the authority the plan gives to the Treasury Department, demand strict oversight of the program. (Sep. 26): Federal regulators seize Washington Mutual, the nation's largest savings and loan. Almost immediately after, JP Morgan Chase buys Washington Mutual. (Sep. 28): Congressional negotiators and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson agree on a $700 billion bailout plan that gives the Treasury unprecedented authority to buy a wide range of troubled financial assets, limits executive pay, gives the government an equity stake in companies that participate in the plan, and gives the federal government the ability to recoup losses from the financial industry after five years, which is considered a major concession. (Sep. 29): In a stunning move that leaves the financial world in disarray, the House rejects the bailout plan, 228 to 205. Only 65 Republicans vote in favor of the bill, despite strong pleas by President Bush; 140 Democrats support the measure. The Dow Jones Industrial Average drops 778 points, it's biggest point decline ever.
  • Unemployment Rate Reaches Highest Level in Five Years (Sep. 5): The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the jobless rate in the U.S. hits 6.1%, the highest point since 2003. Some 84,000 people lost jobs in August.
  • Hundreds Die in Storm in Haiti (Sep. 5): Tropical Storm Hanna strikes the port city of Gonaives, killing at least 500 people and leaving many more injured or missing.
  • Hurricane Leaves a Path of Devastation (Sep. 7-8): At least 61 people die in Haiti, four more are killed in Cuba, and 80% of homes are destroyed on Turks and Caicos islands when category 2 Hurricane Ike strikes the Caribbean. (Sep. 13-14): Hurricane Ike continues its damage when it hits Texas and causes at least 30 deaths, thousands more to evacuate their homes, and millions to lose power in Houston alone. Ike hits the island city of Galveston Bay the hardest, knocking out water, power, and sewer lines. Despite requests to evacuate, at least 15,000 people remained in Galveston amid worsening sanitary conditions.
  • More Than Two Dozen Die in Train Crash (Sep. 12): At least 25 people die when a commuter train crashes head-on with a freight train in Chatsworth, California. The commuter train's engineer, who dies in the accident, fails to stop for a red signal.
  • Several Are Killed in School Shooting in Finland (Sep. 23): A 20-year-old male student shoots and kills at least nine students and himself at a vocational college in Kauhajok, 330km (205 miles) north of the capital, Helsinki.
  • Chinese Astronaut Makes First Spacewalk (Sep. 27): Zhai Zhigang steps out of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft and enters outer space, performing the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut.
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