A Blast from the Past

By United Press International  |  Jan. 17, 2003 at 3:00 AM
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Today is Jan. 17.

The U.S. Justice Department launched an international manhunt for five suspected al-Qaeda members believed to be plotting a new suicide attack on this date in 2002. Videotapes of their plans had been found in the rubble of an Afghanistan compound used by an aide to Osama bin Laden.

Also on this date in 2002, Mount Nyiragongo, a volcano near the town of Goma in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, erupted, killing at least 45 and leaving an estimated 55,000 homeless.

Rolling blackouts in California, caused by an energy crisis, affected as many as two million people beginning on this date in 2001. The governor declared a state of emergency and accused out-of-state energy generators of withholding supplies to drive up prices.

A bloodless coup succeeded on this date in 1893, when the queen of Hawaii was deposed by wealthy merchants who wanted Hawaii to join the United States. Hawaii had seen an influx of Portuguese sailors, then became part of the British Empire, then allied itself with America. Each group did all it could to Westernize the natives. Ironically, today Hawaiians of all ethnic stripes do all they can to nurture what is left of Hawaiian culture.

It was on this date in 1917 that the United States extended its island holdings in another hemisphere when it bought 50 of the Virgin Islands in the West Indies from Denmark for $25 million.

President Reagan -- who told the American public that he would not permit arms sales to Iran -- signed a secret order permitting that very thing on this date in 1987. The main scandal of the Iran-Contra affair, however, was that profits from the sale were sent to Nicaragua's Contra rebels -- something Congress had made illegal. Reagan defenders said the ban was itself unconstitutional, but the courts never got to decide since the help was secret and denied.

A firing squad executed Gary Gilmore on this date in 1977. Gilmore's execution, in Utah, was the first after reinstatement of the U.S. death penalty in 1976. Utah lets a condemned man choose a firing squad or hanging.

A pre-dawn earthquake struck the Los Angeles area on this date in 1994, claiming 61 lives and causing widespread damage. Exactly one years later, in 1995, a powerful earthquake rocked Kobe, Japan, and the surrounding area -- killing more than 5,000 people.

And it was on this date in 1806 that the first baby was born in the White House, the grandson of President Thomas Jefferson.

We now return you to the present, already in progress.

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