current affairs

Five news stories to pay attention to in 2014

Written by Alex Veeneman

It’s come to this.

It’s come to this. Tomorrow, crowds will gather outside Big Ben and the House of Commons at Westminster, at Times Square in New York and other places to say goodbye to 2013 and say hello to 2014.

A lot happened this year, from developments of the conflict in Syria, to the debate on security programmes in the US, the UK and around the world when information on these programmes was made public by the former American security contractor Edward Snowden.

We also watched as the world paid tribute to the former South African president Nelson Mandela, and we watched as Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, the US government shut down for the first time in almost 20 years, a deal be struck on media regulation in the UK in light of the Leveson Inquiry, the debate on an independent Scotland continue and the birth of the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

It’s been an extraordinary year. Yet as we look to 2014, many events are shaping up. Alongside other events and breaking news occurring next year, here are five stories to keep tabs on.

The Olympics

Athletes will travel to Sochi, Russia in February to take part in the Winter Olympics. Apart from the exciting athletic competition, a development worth watching out for is the implications for the country’s president, Vladimir Putin. Putin has been criticised around the world for his country’s human rights record and treatment of protesters, including the band Pussy Riot, the businessman Mikhail Khordorkovsky and the Greenpeace activists who left Russia last week.

Putin has also been criticised for the country’s anti-gay laws, which had been at the centre of debate going into the Olympics, and the banning of protests during the Games. What will happen to Putin’s image after the Olympics is uncertain, but will be worth keeping an eye on.

Elections in America

Voters in the United States will go to the polls in November to elect members of the House of Representatives and one third of members of the Senate, in what is seen as a test of current government policies. The popularity of Congress is said to be at an all-time low and the ratings of President Barack Obama too are fluctuating, especially considering the response of implementing the new health care reform law and the state of the economy.

Republicans have the majority in The House of Representatives, while Democrats have the majority in the Senate. There had been hopes of bipartisanship, especially in light of the recent budget deal, but many Americans are still not happy with the performance of leaders in Washington. The results of these elections may change the direction of the United States, and at the same time, the direction of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Scottish independence vote

Voters in Scotland will go to the polls in September to determine whether it should be independent from the UK. The Scottish government released its full plans if a yes vote is achieved in the referendum. Yet, there is still a debate on whether the referendum has the backing of voters, with a recent poll in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper indicating 27 per cent of voters will vote yes, 41 per cent plan to vote no, and 33 per cent are uncertain.

Yet, a poll from the Scotsman newspaper said the public believed the government was spending too much on the referendum, and the £800,000 reportedly invested could have been spent better. The debate on whether Scotland should be independent is likely to increase as the yes and no campaigns try to get the uncertain voters to side with their campaigns, though the final picture still is unclear.

Syria peace talks

Talks are due to take place in January in Geneva, Switzerland regarding a solution to the conflict in Syria. 31 countries were invited to take part, including representatives from the Arab League, the European Union, the UN, and from Syrian opposition and rebel forces, according to a report from the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

There is still some debate about the appearance of Iran at the talks, with opposition coming from the United States. UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon said last week Iran should be at the conference, the report added. Diplomatic efforts to reach a deal had been one of the developments out of the conflict, including negotiations at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, but it is unclear if a solution can come from these talks, the second in two years.

Catalonia’s possible independence referendum

Citizens of Spain’s Catalonia region have called on a referendum from Spain. Separatist parties set a date of 9 November for a referendum, a move opposed by officials in Madrid, according to a report from the Reuters news agency. 74 per cent of voters have said they should have a say on their relationship with Spain, however a poll from the newspaper El Mundo says only 35 per cent of voters would vote yes in any independence referendum, the report adds.

It’s been a debate that has been gaining ground for the past year since austerity moves were imposed by the Spanish government, yet whether a referendum will be given is uncertain.

A lot can happen in a year, and already some of the headlines are being written for these big events. What will happen is for us to find out.

Until then, we wish you and yours a very Happy New Year.

What do you think about these events? What stories would you add? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Harris Morgan / Wikimedia Commons