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Focus '82: A year the world would prefer to forget

America's hostages came out of Iran and Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. Apart from that, it was a year Europe and the Middle East would rather forget.

In Asia, power struggles, coup attempts, assassinations, airline hijackings, communal riots, strikes and heated rows over American defense aid and trade prompted much the same feeling.

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Nations once called derisively 'Banana Republics' got most of the attention in Latin America in 1981.

But it was the tanks taking over in Poland that riveted world attention and proved the event of the year.

From London, Gregory Jensen reports on the Europe-Mideast-Africa scene:

On Sunday, Dec. 13, Poland awoke in the grip of martial law under the command of strongman Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski who, bypassing the Communist Party, assumed total power at the head of a military junta.

Troublemakers faced the penalty of death. Poles reacted with shock and anger, as did most of the Western world. The tense weeks that followed were ones of defiance -- and bloodshed. There were strikes and brave attempts to demonstrate but the opposition was uncoordinated, with communications disrupted and travel restricted.

At year's end Poles were desperately short of food, under tight military security and facing economic disaster.

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Assassins killed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and tried to kill Pope John Paul II. Governments toppled all over the map -- Norway had three prime ministers in a year -- and hardly one country ended the year better off economically than it began.

Yet the year started with good news. On Jan. 20, the day President Reagan was inaugurated, Iran freed 52 American hostages after 444 days of captivity, in return for a phased refund of Iranian money blocked in the United States.

There was more happiness over the July 29 Charles-Diana wedding, an event which created an extraordinary wave of good spirits not only in Britain but around the world. And before 1982 is half over there will be a royal baby to celebrate.

But that almost ends the good-news list, except for supporters of Francois Mitterrand in France and Andreas Papandreou in Greece. Socialists both, they won their countries' elections and promptly began changes, Mitterrand by bringing Communists into his cabinet, Papandreou by threatening to cut Greece's Western ties.

Finland lost its towering statesman, Erho Kekkonen, who resigned in ill health after a presidency so long -- 25 years -- that Finland can never seem the same.

A failed coup begun by a spectacular invasion of parliament shook Spain's 5-year-old democracy to its core. A year after Josip Broz Tito's death, savage riots in the province of Kosovo shook Yugoslavia. What shook Britain was a brief but frighting wave of inner-city riots and what surprised it was the meteoric rise of the new Social Democratic party.

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Iran went on to elect its president for the first time, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini fired him. Ousted Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr took political asylum in France, and Iran was bathed in the blood of more than 1,000 persons, executed or assassinated.

Iran's war with Iraq ground inconclusively on. Ten Irish Republicans starved themselves to death in an Ulster prison to win concessions from a government they wanted to destroy.

Israel startled the world with its lightning attack on an unfinished Iraqi reactor near Baghdad. It bombed Beirut -- 300 people died -- and only shuttle negotiations by a U.S. diplomat averted war over Syrian missiles in violence-shattered Lebanon.

But on Dec. 14 Prime Minister Menachem Begin announced Israel's unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights. Washington's reaction was to suspend the recently concluded U.S.-Israeli memorandum of strategic cooperation and future American military purchases from Israel totaling some $200 million.

In Europe, a tide of anti-Americanism provoked terrorist attacks on Americans, including kidnappings of ranking U.S. officers and periodic bombings.

An even wider tide of demonstrations and marches protested Western nuclear weapons, ignoring the Soviet-American arms control talks which opened in Geneva. Hundreds of thousands marched in Holland, West Germany, France, Italy and Britain, but a Soviet nuclear sub suspiciously aground in Sweden may temper Scandinavian nuclear protests.

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In the Soviet Union, President Leonid Brezhnev soldiered on at 75, and a new five-year plan called for record grain production despite the third bad Soviet harvest in a row.

Michael Keats writes from Hong Kong:

China's Vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping consolidated his hold on the world's most populous nation, though he faced the prospect of having to downgrade relations with Washington if the Reagan administration sold jet fighters to Taiwan.

The 'trial of the century' saw the jailing of the widow of Mao Tse-tung, leader of the 'gang of four' counter-revolutionaries.

Deng demoted Mao's handpicked successor, Hua Guofeng, from his post as Communist Party chairman, but the Chinese leader's critics pressured him to retreat from his more open policies and he allowed ideological attacks on poets, writers and others tainted with 'bourgeois liberalism.'

In Indochina there were indications the Soviet-backed Vietnamese strengthened their grasp on Cambodia and Laos.

But the warring anti-Vietnamese factions in Cambodia agreed to use political and military pressure to unseat the Heng Samrin government and get the Vietnamese out of the country.

India's relations with the United States suffered from Washington's decision to sell F-16 warplanes to neighboring Pakistan. The warplanes, plus a $3.5 billion defense and economic aid program, strengthened the iron-fisted regime of Pakistan President Mohammed Zia Ul-Haq.

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Some 85,000 Soviet troops continued to occupy Afghanistan.

Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated but the country continued its democratic tradition with the election of vice-president Abdus Sattar.

Communal rioting in Sri Lanka early in the year forced President Junius Jayewardene to declare a state of emergency until October, when Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visited the island.

Japan agreed to a 7.6 percent cutback in car shipments to the United States for two years from April, but the year was still dominated by trade surpluses run up with America and the Common Market nations.

Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki's government was rocked by the disclosure that for years U.S. warships armed with nuclear weapons had called at Japanese ports.

South Korea's President Chun Doo-hwan was the first head of state to visit President Reagan after the Washington inauguration. Seoul was chosen as the site of the 1988 summer Olympics.

Singapore gained second place among the world's busiest ports. Trade was expected to top the $50 billion mark by the end of the year. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew kept employment high, but his government's tight-fisted social welfare policies caused the ruling People's Action party to lose a by-election to the opposition, the first election reversal in 14 years.

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The Philippines saw the end to 8 years of martial law.

Australia remained mired in industrial disputes, but Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser government brought the inflation rate down to 9.1 percent, its lowest level in 3 years.

New Zealand suffered unemployment at an all-time high and inflation at 15.4 percent. A year-end election left Prime Minister Robert Muldoon with the narrowest of winning margins.

From Mexico City, Juan O. Tamayo looks at a continent dominated by the Central American story:

Civil war erupted with full force in El Salvador, latest flashpoint in Central America's tumultuous entry into the 20th century, while another bloody conflict engulfed neighboring Guatemala.

In Nicaragua, Sandinista rulers gave signs of moving toward a Cuban-style government and received tons of Soviet weaponry, but they also were accused by local Communists of taking a 'detour toward capitalism.'

President Reagan staked his 'get tough' foreign policy on those hot spots, rushing military aid to El Salvador and Guatemala, cutting off U.S. aid to Nicaragua and denouncing Fidel Castro's Cuba as the source of the unrest.

Other sources believed El Salvador and Guatemala simply were feeling the pent-up popular and middle class resentment at long-time domination by privileged economic and political elites backed by the military.

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The prospect for 1982 was for more bloodshed while diplomats and politicians maneuvered to keep open the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

El Salvador's military-Christian Democratic junta called for 1982 elections for a constituent assembly, but the left boycotted the electoral process and the battle for ballots was left to the centrist Christian Democrats and an alliance of five rightist parties.

In Guatemala, the rebels made headway in a drive to win over the poor Indians who are 55 percent of Guatemala's 7.2 million people.

The rebels, striking swiftly, blew up army convoys, shot up isolated barracks, and executed government 'collaborators.' Then they returned to mountain hideouts, leaving frustrated soldiers to take revenge on innocents.

Reagan resumed U.S. military aid to Guatemala, halted in 1977 because of the government's human rights record.

Mexico's President Jose Lopez Portillo took the spotlight as a bridge between the United States and Central America, urging the United States not to invervene militarily.

Two of Latin America's most prominent democracies, Colombia and Venezuela, denounced Cuba for aiding the El Salvador rebels.

Colombia has its own insurgency problems with M-19 guerrillas operating in rural areas, but diplomats do not consider these rebels a threat to the government, also planning elections next year.

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Political life in South America was relatively quiet, except in coup-prone Bolivia, which underwent its 195th change of government in 156 years of independence.

Economic problems dominated the two giants of South America, Brazil and Argentina, whose ailing military president, Roberto Viola, was replaced by army commander Leopoldo Galtieri.

For the first time a Latin American, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, was named secretary general of the United Nations.

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