February 15: The Soviet Union completed its withdrawal
from Afghanistan after a bloody nine-year war which had turned
into Russia's version of Vietnam. The invasion was ordered when
the Kabul regime, supported by Moscow, seemed in danger of falling
to Muslim guerillas.
It looked like an unequal struggle between the Soviet superpower
and a rag-tag army of Mujahideen fighters who had spent most of
their previous history fighting each other. But the arrival of
communist troops united the guerillas in what became a jihad (holy
war) between Islam and atheism.
Although the guerillas received some weapons and aid from the
West, they were largely on their own, hiding in mountain passes
by day and moving by night. Although the Russians sent in more
troops - 80,000 at one stage - and used helicopter gunships and
millions of landmines, they were up against fighters who refused
to surrender and who believed that anyone who died in battle went
straight to paradise.
Against so many would-be martyrs, the firepower of the Soviet
Union was useless. The last soldier to quit, General Boris Gromov,
stepped over the Afghan border into the USSR on February 15. The
Afghan war had set Russia at loggerheads with the West. Its ending
was a significant step in bringing the 45-year Cold War to a close.
For Afghanistan, a brief taste of peace quickly evaporated as
the rival Muslim factions began fighting each other once again.
January 14. The Satanic Verses was publicly burned in
a demonstration by Muslims in Bradford. The author, Salman Rushdie,
was the subject of a fatwa imposed by the Ayatollah Khomeini on
the grounds that the book was blasphemy and that Rushdie, himself
born a Muslim, had abandoned his faith.
The title of Rushdie's novel refers to passages cut out of the
Koran by the Prophet Mohammed on the grounds that they had been
inspired by the devil. His book was deeply offensive to Muslims
whose public demonstrations of anger took the British authorities
November 10. The Berlin Wall comes down. The symbol of
a Europe divided between capitalism and communism, it was torn
apart by Berliners on both sides. The Wall had been hastily erected
in 1961 to prevent East Germans flooding into the more affluent
West. At least 75 died violently in trying to cross the hated
border, described by the communist East German authorities as
"the people's anti-fascist barrier." "The Germans are the happiest
people in the world today," declared the Mayor of West Berlin,
Soon the cost of uniting West and East Germany would hit West
German taxpayers hard. It came as a shock, too, for West Germans
to realise that the East was a haven not only for industrial inefficiency
but also for neo-Nazi skinheads.
15. Horror at Hillsborough. Ninety-four people died and 170
were injured when Liverpool fans were allowed to crowd into the
centre section of the west stand of the Sheffield stadium. While
some scrambled to safety, many were unable to move and were suffocated
beneath the crush of bodies.
"Please try to be calm," Liverpool manager Kenny Dalgleish appealed
over the PA system. "We are doing our best for you." But the public
inquiry revealed that neither police nor ambulance crews had performed
well. The anguish of the bereaved was made worse later when some
officers received compensation awards for trauma. The Hillsborough
disaster turned Liverpool into a city in mourning. The Anfield
ground became a shrine, covered in floral tributes and Liverpool
March 24. The tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground off Alaska,
causing the worst oil spillage in US history. The 1,000 foot supertanker
struck a reef shortly after leaving the port of Valdez. An estimated
11 million gallons of crude oil poured into one of the most sensitive
environments on the planet. The slick covered 50 square miles
and the company was condemned for reacting too slowly to the catastrophe.
January 7. The "Imperial Son of
Heaven," Japan's Emperor Hirohito, died peacefully aged
82. He had escaped being tried for war crimes but was still
regarded as a war criminal by Britain's former PoWs.
January 8. Forty died when a British
Midland jet bound for Belfast crashed beside the M1 at Kegworth.
February 11. The first woman bishop
in the Anglican church, Barbara Harris, was consecrated
in Boston, USA.
April 1. MEB announced that all
its vehicles - the biggest fleet in the Midlands - were
to be converted to lead-free petrol during the Express &
Star's Let's Get Leadless campaign.
April 18. Britain was accused by
the EC of failing to meet Euro-standards on drinking water.
April 28. Former Sutton Coldfield
car salesman John Cannan was jailed for life after a 17-day
trial for the murder of newlywed Shirley Banks and attacks
on two other women. The judge said he should never again
see the outside of a cell.
June 9. In a ferocious show of
strength, Chinese soldiers crushed the pro-democracy demonstration
in Tiananmen Square.
August 1. Water bills throughout
the West Midlands were set to rise by 13 per cent.
August 14. West Midlands Police
Serious Crimes Squad was disbanded after allegations of
August 20. August 23. A campaign
was launched in Brownhills to save Shire Oak School from
September 22. The IRA bombed the
Royal Marines' School of Music at Deal. Ten bandsmen were
killed and 22 injured.
October 3. Legal action started
against Sunseekers, the Birmingham travel company which
collapsed with debts of £770,000.
October 20. Guildford Four released
after their 1975 convictions for terrorism were overturned.
December 3. At a conference off
Malta, George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev formally announced
that the Cold War was over.
December 25. Revolution in Romania.
Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed by
a firing squad.