May 2014 Current Events: World News
Here are the key events in world news for the month of May 2014.
Fighting Escalates in Eastern Ukraine, Referendums Held (May 2): The Ukrainian government launches an offensive in the rebel-held eastern city of Sloviansk. The separatists shoot down two Ukrainian military helicopters in the fighting. The turmoil spreads to Odessa, a strategically important port city in the Black Sea area, and about a dozen people are killed in battles between separatists and advocates of Ukrainian unity. In addition, more than 40 people, mostly pro-Russian separatists, die in a fire in Odessa when the building they had locked themselves in goes up in flames. (May 7): As the fighting and chaos escalates in eastern Ukraine and the U.S. and Europe threaten additional sanctions for Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces the withdrawal of the 40,000 troops from the border with Ukraine, urges separatists to abandon plans for a referendum on autonomy, and says Russia will participate in negotiations to end the crisis. "I simply believe that if we want to find a long-term solution to the crisis in Ukraine, open, honest, and equal dialogue is the only possible option," Putin says. Both the U.S. and European officials respond with a heavy dose of skepticism that Putin will follow through. The pro-Russian separatists say they will hold the referendum on May 11 despite Putin's request. (May 11): The referendums on regional autonomy are held in Donetsk and Luhansk. Both provinces overwhelmingly approve the referendums; 90% of voters in Donetsk vote in favor of self-rule, and 96% do in Luhansk. Acting President Turchynov denounces the votes as "a farce." The U.S. and several European nations also dismiss the referendums. Polls show, however, that the results are not an accurate reflection of how a majority of eastern Ukrainians feel about independence. Most prefer to remain part of Ukraine; only those in favor of autonomy turn out to vote. Russia expresses little appetite for annexing either region, reluctant to take on the economic burden or risk further sanctions. (May 15): Thousands of unarmed steelworkers and miners take to the streets in Mariupol, the region's second-largest city. The pro-Russian separatists withdraw, ceding control of the city. Workers in several other cities follow by the end of the day. They are urged on by Rinat Akhmetov, the country's richest man who employs the miners and steelworkers, who says they may lose their jobs if Russia annexes the region.
Tension increases between China and Vietnam (May 4): Vietnamese officials report that their vessels have been hit by Chinese ships. "Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels," says Foreign Ministry official Tran Duy Hai, during a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. "Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels." (May 7): The situation intensifies when Vietnamese ships confront Chinese ships, while the Chinese vessels place an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam. The placement of the rig also leads to protests throughout Vietnam. The Vietnamese government asks China to remove the rig and dispatches a naval flotilla to the area. The rig is placed in waters claimed by both Vietnam and China. (May 22): Anti-China protesters set fire to at least 15 foreign-owned factories throughout Vietnam, according to state media. Protesters also destroy and loot offices of manufacturing companies owned or managed by Chinese workers. At least one person dies in the protests.
Boko Haram Takes Responsibility for Kidnapping (May 5): Islamist militant group Boko Haram claims responsibility for kidnapping about 280 girls from a school in northeast Nigeria last month. In a video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says, "I abducted your girls." The mass kidnapping-and the government's inept attempts to rescue them-continue to spark international outrage. Demonstrations have been held in Washington, New York, and London.
Opposition Dominates India's Election (May 12): In India's general election, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party trounces the governing Indian National Congress Party, taking about 60% of the seats in parliament. The decisive victory gives the party an outright majority in parliament. Narendra Modi is set to become prime minister. The Congress party, headed by the Gandhi family, has prevailed over Indian politics since the country gained independence in 1947. The results reflect the country's dissatisfaction with lackluster economic growth, high inflation, and a series of corruption scandals. The election takes place in nine phases from April 7 through May 12, making it the longest election in the country's history. Some 550 million votes are cast, and voter turnout is about 66%. (May 21): India invites Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Narendra Modi's inauguration. The invite is one of Modi's first decisions as prime minister. (May 26): Sharif accepts the invitation to attend the inauguration. The two shake hands and exchange pleasantries at the ceremony, a sign that there may be a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan.
Clashes in Mali Kill Dozens (May 17): Mali's Prime Minister Moussa Mara visits the northern towns of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao. While Timbuktu and Gao have been mostly peaceful after the ceasefire was signed between the government and the Tuareg rebels, Kidal remains a rebel stronghold and a tinderbox, and rebels shoot at him when he arrived. Mara calls the provocation a "declaration of war," and about 1,500 Malian troops are dispatched to Kidal and attack the rebels. The military is outmatched by the rebels, who kill 50 troops, take 50 prisoners, and capture a government fort in Kidal. Hundreds of troops surrender. (May 27): Defense Minister Soumeylou Boybeye Maiga resigns after the attack.
U.S. Charges Five in Chinese Military With Hacking (May 19): The U.S. Justice Department unseals an indictment of five members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, charging them with hacking into the computer networks of Westinghouse Electric, U.S. Steel Corp., and other companies. Shanghai-based Unit 61398 is the cyber division of China's national army. The move is considered largely symbolic since there is little chance the men will surrender.
Military Stages a Coup in Thailand (May 20): Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief, declares martial law throughout Thailand. He says the move is to restore peace and order and requests that both sides stop protesting. He explicitly says the military is not launching a coup-something it has carried out on numerous occasions. "We urge people not to panic. Please carry on your daily activities as usual. The imposition of martial law is not a coup d'etat," Gen. Prayuth says. U.S. officials are skeptical of Prayuth's motives, and the State Department calls on the military to "honor its commitment to make this a temporary action to prevent violence, and to not undermine democratic institutions." (May 22): Gen. Prayuth announces that he has indeed seized power from the interim government in a coup. He says the coup is necessary because "of the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property." It is the second military coup in less than 10 years.
Billionaire Businessman Wins Presidential Election in Ukraine (May 25): Petro Poroshenko easily prevails in Ukraine's special presidential election, taking more than 50% of the vote and avoiding a runoff. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was recently released from prison, places a distant second. Poroshenko, who made his fortune in the candy industry and is known as the Chocolate King, inherits a country mired in a civil war and financial disarray. He also must deal with Ukraine's tense relationship with Russia. "The first steps of our team at the beginning of the presidential work will be to put an end to war, to put an end to chaos, to end disorder, and to bring peace to the land of Ukraine - united, unitary Ukraine," Poroshenko says in a speech declaring victory. (May 26): Pro-Russian separatists attempt to take over the airport in Donetsk. The government in Kiev dispatches the military and fighter jets to take back the airport. About 50 militants are killed in battles with the military. The militants later shoot down a military helicopter, killing 14 people.
Voter Turnout Is Unexpectedly Low for Egypt's Presidential Election (May 27): Voter turnout in Egypt's presidential election is so low that officials add a third day of voting and declare the added day a state holiday. The low turnout suggests that Abdul-Fattah Sisi does not have the overwhelming support he has claimed and that has been widely reported. Sisi is the influential general who led the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and resigned as defense minister in March to run for president in this election. (May 29): Provisional results show Sisi winning the election by 90% of the vote.
U.S. Completes Prisoner Swap with Taliban for Sgt. Bergdahl (May 31): After several years of negotiations, the U.S. and Taliban complete a prisoner swap. The Taliban surrenders Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held prisoner for five years, and the U.S. release five top members of the Taliban leadership from the Guantanamo Bay prison. The detainees are handed over to Qatar officials and must remain in that country for one year. Afghan president Hamid Karzai is not made aware of the deal until after the prisoners are released.