December 1999 News and Events

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

1999 News Month-By-Month


  • Northern Ireland Gains Home Rule (Dec. 2): Ulster, although still afflicted by sectarian hatred, enters hoped-for era of stability as London transfers authority over local affairs to new assembly. Cabinet drawn from Roman Catholic and Protestant parties. In Dublin, Ireland's government strikes from Constitution the wish to include North.
  • World Trade Conference Collapses (Dec. 3): Seattle talks end with little progress as differences between Western nations and developing nations get in the way. President Clinton fails to gain sufficient support for an ambitious program to liberalize trade and broaden the mandate of the World Trade Organization.
  • Swiss Banks Criticized Over Nazi Victims (Dec. 6): Panel finds “misleading statements” to Jews seeking family assets. Audit finds records of 54,000 accounts likely held by victims of Holocaust.
  • Kosovo Death Toll Set at 10,000 (Dec. 9): State Department estimates number of casualties during 1999 in Serbian campaign to drive out ethnic Albanian population. Says 1.5 million Albanians were forced out of their homes.
  • U.S. Expels Russian Diplomat (Dec. 9): State Department orders ouster of envoy, Stanislav Borisovich Grusev, after finding him outside headquarters with electronic equipment for monitoring listening device hidden in conference room.
  • European Union Invites Turkey to Join (Dec. 10): Reverses rejection based on Turkey's human rights record two years previously. Union also agrees to plan for taking in more former Communist nations.
  • Europe Bolsters Military Power (Dec. 10): Leaders in 15-member European Union agree to expand military and intelligence capabilities. The union will equip itself to deploy as many as 60,000 troops to crisis zones like Kosovo. Leaders hope EU will become a strategic force with worldwide respect.
  • Germans Agree on Fund for Nazi Slaves (Dec. 14): Industry and government officials to set up $5.1 billion total to compensate laborers. More than one million surviving victims of Nazi era could be affected, but number who would file claims is uncertain. Laborers, about half of them Jewish, were held in concentration camps and forced to work under harsh conditions.
  • U.S. to Compensate China for Embassy Bombing (Dec, 16): Agrees to $28 million payment for damage caused when NATO war planes mistakenly bombed embassy in Belgrade during 1999 campaign. China agrees to reimburse U.S. for damage to diplomatic buildings by protesters in China.
  • UN Proposes New Iraqi Arms Inspection Plan (Dec. 17): UN Security Council votes to create new system, promising that sanctions against Iraq could be suspended within a year if President Saddam Hussein cooperates. (Dec. 18): Iraq formally rejects plan. Protesters in Baghdad demonstrate against U.S. and Britain.
  • China Reclaims Island of Macao (Dec. 20): Takes back tiny Pacific enclave from Portugal, ending 500 years of European colonialism in Asia. Macao, now a gambling haven with a population of 430,000, will retain its own government and legal system for the next 50 years.
  • Russia Holds Parliamentary Elections (Dec. 19): Pro-government parties make strong showing as millions vote for candidates backed by Vladimir V. Putin. Two new parties endorsed by the prime minister collect more than 30% of the votes, giving Putin close to a working majority in Parliament. Election bolsters Putin's strength on domestic issues and suggests public backs his support of the war in Chechnya. Election also proves Communist party is still Russia's largest single party.
  • U.S. Blocks $500 Million Loan to Russia (Dec. 22): Secretary of State Madeleine Albright orders Export-Import Bank not to grant aid to state-affiliated oil company that has resisted reforms. Claims war in Chechnya not a factor in decision. Allegations about the use of bankruptcy laws in Russia and shareholders' and creditors' rights had been raised.
  • U.S. Aide Criticizes Chechnya Warfare (Dec. 23): Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot, in Moscow for talks, accuses Russia of “indiscriminate killing.” He fails to end impasse between Russia and U.S. over major arms control treaty. (Dec. 28): Russian military, facing stiff resistance, says Chechnya fighting may go on for months.
  • UN Votes for Antiterrorism Plan (Dec. 27): General Assembly moves to set up international agreement to stop flow of money to terrorist organizations. Called the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the agreement encourages nations to keep track of bank activity by foreign organizations that may be buying arms or otherwise supporting terrorists in other countries.
  • Russia's President Resigns (Dec. 31): Boris N. Yeltsin, 68, quits six months before end of term, picking Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin as acting successor. Yeltsin had been first senior party member to quit the Communist Party, and he helped engineer the breakup of the Soviet Union. The timing of his resignation at the height of Putin's popularity suggests easy victory for Yeltsin's hand-picked successor in coming March election.
  • World Celebrates Third Millennium (Dec. 31): Millions across world mark eve of New Year, new century, and new thousand-year period of history. Debate over whether the millennium begins in 2000 or 2001 is set aside during festivities.
  • Jet Hijackers Hold 155 Hostages Eight Days (Dec. 31): Five men seized Indian Airlines plane on Dec. 24 during flight from Nepal to New Delhi and forced pilots to fly to Afghanistan. Release all aboard after India agrees to free three militants imprisoned for their activity in the cause to liberate Kashmir from India. One person killed shortly after hijacking.


  • Clinton Halts Firing on Puerto Rico's Island (Dec. 3): Orders Navy to give up live-ammunition training on Vieques and end exercises there within five years unless local residents agree to extension.
  • U.S. Jury Indicts Los Alamos Engineer (Dec. 10): Charges nuclear weapons worker Wen Ho Lee with illegally removing highly classified data from New Mexico weapons laboratory where he was employed. Charges stop short of accusing him of espionage.
  • Clinton Calls “Don't Ask” Policy a Failure (Dec. 11): Admits official policy toward gays in the military is not being carried out as intended, due to military leaders' lack of enforcement. Policy had been expected to reduce harassment of homosexuals. Clinton says policy should be reexamined.
  • U.S. Ends Power Over Panama Canal (Dec. 14): Former president Jimmy Carter attends symbolic ceremony marking transfer of canal's control to Panama after nearly a century of U.S. authority. Carter, as President, had signed treaties giving Panama full sovereignty and responsibility for the canal. Both countries share responsibility for guaranteeing the canal's neutrality.
  • E.P.A. Orders Cut in Pollution (Dec. 17): Tells 392 plants in 12 states to reduce by half emissions of smog-producing chemicals blowing to Eastern seaboard. New regulations enacted at requests of N.Y., Conn., Mass., and Penn., which said they needed help to meet federal smog standards.
  • Strict Air Pollution Rules Issued (Dec. 21): Clinton order requires automakers to build cleaner vehicles and oil companies to produce cleaner gasoline. Regulations are met with little resistance, having been revised to appeal more readily to carmakers and oil companies.


  • Mars Polar Lander a Failure (Dec. 5): Attempts to communicate with missing spacecraft met with silence. Mission officials and scientists lose hope for $165 million project. Companion craft, Mars Climate Orbiter, had been lost as it approached the planet in Sept.
  • Contractor Convicted in Airliner Crash (Dec. 6): U.S. jury finds SabreTech Inc. guilty of improperly packaging the oxygen generators on Valujet flight 592, which crashed in the Everglades in 1996. 110 people were killed in the accident.
  • Seattle Police Chief Quits Under Pressure (Dec. 7): Norm Stamper resigns amid criticism of department's handling of protests during World Trade Organization conference a week earlier.
  • Evidence of Martian Ocean Reported (Dec. 9): Scientists at Brown University base conclusions on evidence gathered by Mars Global Surveyor. Claim signs indicate wide body of water existed in northern lowlands before drying up.
  • Cleveland School Vouchers Ruled Illegal (Dec. 20): U.S. judge finds taxpayer-financed aid to children to attend parochial schools unconstitutional. System ruled to violate separation of church and state.
  • Jellyfish Genes Placed in Monkeys (Dec. 22): Oregon scientists report using technique that might some day be useful in creating monkeys with human genes. Research could help in finding methods of preventing and correcting diseases, but raises troubling questions about human genetic engineering.
  • Hundreds Perish in Venezuela Disaster (Dec. 23): Death toll estimated at up to 30,000 from floods and mudslides in three days of torrential rains. 150,000 left homeless in nation's worst natural catastrophe of century. Devastation is widespread along Venezuela's northern coast.
  • Hubble Space Telescope Repaired (Dec. 24): Two astronauts leave shuttle Discovery to install a radio transmitter and a digital recorder. It is third and final spacewalk of the mission. (Dec. 25): Astronauts accomplish last major task by releasing $3 billion observatory to resume its scientific function.
  • Storms Strike Wide Area of Europe (Dec. 26 et seq.): Wind gales reach 110 miles an hour in some areas. France is hardest hit. Scores dead and hundreds injured in France, southern Germany, Switzerland, Britain, Belgium, Spain, and Italy. Crews from other nations help restore power.
  • Nasdaq Rises to Record Level (Dec. 29): Composite index closes above 4,000 points for first time. The index rises 69.35, or 1.7%, up 84.3% since end of 1998. Nasdaq's strength is based largely on its dominating technology stocks.

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