Soviets leave Afghanistan

Troops pull out of Afghanistan

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 unaware.

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, Walter Momper.

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.

Chaos at HillsboroughApril 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 scarves.

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.


In brief

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 corruption.

August 20. August 23. A campaign was launched in Brownhills to save Shire Oak School from closure.

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.