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A year of turmoil and tension around world

SOME events we could have anticipated; others were inevitably unforeseen.

It was the year the Arab Spring turned to a harsh winter reality, a year of a fiercely contested US presidential election, Vladimir Putin's return to power, and CIA chief David Petraeus's sex scandals.

A year too when Superstorm Sandy did its worst and the cruise ship Costa Concordia calamitously capsized. In the past 12 months we also bizarrely saw Gangnam go viral and the end of the world declared nigh.

However, if two events more than any other defined the world over the past 12 months, it was the civil war in Syria and the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

As 2012 drew to a close there was a real sense that the coming year will bring the final showdown in Syria.

In a year that began with a savage assault by Syrian forces on cities such as Homs and Aleppo and saw the death of countless Syrians – and my friend and colleague, British war correspondent Marie Colvin – at the dawning of 2013 there are now real signs that opposition forces are gaining the upper hand on the battlefield.

What will follow in the wake of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's likely demise is anyone's guess, but most probably this long-suffering country's bloodletting will get worse before it gets better.

In Egypt too, that other cauldron of the Arab Spring uprisings, the political shock waves continue to create instability, hope and anger in equal measure. The past year has seen Egyptians wrestle with the implications of their new-found freedom, shaping it according to their myriad beliefs and aspirations. It has been far from easy.

Shaping the United States in a way that realises his own vision of the country's future will also be a priority for Barack Obama, not that it looked likely some months ago.

Who among us can forget Obama's shaky moments in last year's opening presidential candidate debate, when just for a moment it looked like Mitt Romney had been handed a backdoor key into the White House?

There were other major leadership changes elsewhere in the world.

In China, President Hu retired to give way to a younger leadership; France rejected Nicolas Sarkozy, in favour of Francoise Hollande; and Vladimir Putin returned like a spectre to haunt Europe as President of Russia for the third time.

That not everyone in Russia likes Mr Putin is a given, and protests against his rule turned Moscow and other cities into protest flashpoints during the course of the year. There were of course other global flashpoints that threaten to boil over into 2013.

Iran and its suspect nuclear programme topped 2012's heap of unresolved diplomatic problems – and 2013's things-to-do list.

If Binyamin Netanyahu wins Israel's January election and Tehran continues to up its uranium enrichment totals, the spectre of military confrontation will loom large again, as it did for much of 2012. Mr Netanyahu will have his political work cut out, however, in this month's elections after what many saw as his strategic miscalculation over the recent crisis in Gaza where Israel and the Palestinians continued their interminable battle of wills.

In Afghanistan it was a year when the term "green-on blue" became, sadly, a household phrase. In that long, drawn-out war, an unprecedented number of British and other coalition soldiers were killed by the very Afghan security personnel they were working alongside and trying to train. While coalition troops look ever closer to coming home, nearer to home itself events had a distinctly turbulent look about them too.

In Greece and Spain we witnessed those countries and others battle with austerity cuts and the European Union near breaking point.

Given such turmoil and tension across the globe in 2012 one could be forgiven for believing that those who predicted the end of the world last month according to the ancient Mayan Calendar had indeed got it right.

Fortunately, that was not to be the case, ensuring millions more of us could add to the billion or so who have already viewed South Korean pop product PSY's Gangnam Style dance moves.

As of Christmas Day 2012, the music video became YouTube's most watched video after surpassing Justin Bieber's single Baby.

Elsewhere in our downtime, we also ensured it was the year of the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini despite Apple's ongoing battle with trade rival Samsung.

So there you have it, 2012, a year of civil wars, presidential elections, austerity cuts and gyrating South Korean popsters.

As for the year ahead? Well, it looks likely to be no less erratic and eccentric.

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