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August 28 – South African troops invade Angola.


December 31 – A coup d'état in Ghana removes President Hilla Limann's PNP government and replaces it with the PNDC led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings.

§South Africa

December 4 – South Africa grants "homeland" Ciskei independence (not recognized outside South Africa).



January 25 – Chiang Ching ('Madame Mao') is sentenced to death in the People's Republic of China.


October 10 – The Ministry for Education of Japan issues the jōyō kanji.

§Central America


September 21 – Belize becomes independent.


January 1 – Greece enters the European Community, which later becomes the European Union.


April 26 – French presidential election: A first-round runoff results between Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and François Mitterrand.

May 10 – In the second round of the presidential elections, François Mitterrand beats Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

May 21 – Socialist François Mitterrand becomes President.

September 18 – France abolishes capital punishment.

September 27 – TGV high speed rail service between Paris and Lyon, France begins.


February 1 - Dieter Faber arrested in Kaiselautern and charged with “supporting a criminal association” (RAF).

February 6 - RAF prisoners begin a hunger strike demanding association and the release of Günter Sonnenberg.

March 13 - First national squatters' congress in Münster.

April 10 - Karl Grosser arrested in Heidelberg and charged with "supporting a criminal association" (RAF).

May 12 - 162 new houses occupied by squatters in West Berlin.

May 26 - A day of street-fighting follows police raids against squats in West Berlin.

June 3 - Barbara Augustin arrested with a car-load of explosives at the Swiss border in Rheinau.

August 31 - RAF "Commando Sigurd Debus" bombs the Headquarters of the U.S. Air force in Ramstein, and issues a communiqué.

September 3 - Sixty thousand demonstrate against the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig to West Berlin.

September 15 - RAF "Commando Gudrun Ensslin" attacks and narrowly misses killing the head of the U.S. Army in Europe, General Frederick Kroesen. A communiqué is released regarding this assassination attempt.

September 21 - The trial of RAF member Sieglinde Hoffman, charged in connection with the execution of Jürgen Ponto.

October 10 - In the largest demonstration in West German history, two hundred and sixty five thousand march in anti-war demonstration in Bonn.

October 16 - Helga Roos is arrested for "supporting a criminal association" (RAF), in connection with the attack on Kroesen.

August 31 – A bomb explodes at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein, West Germany, injuring 20 people.

§Great Britain

January 24 – The British Labour Party special conference at Wembley decides that leadership elections should be by electoral college.

January 25 – Four former Labour cabinet ministers (Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, William Rodgers and David Owen) issue the Limehouse Declaration, leading to the formation of the Social Democratic Party.

March 10 – Sir Geoffrey Howe announces the British budget, which raises taxes in the middle of a recession.

March 26 – The British Social Democratic Party is launched at the Connaught Rooms in London.

March 29 – The first London Marathon starts with 7,500 runners.

April 2 – Tony Benn announces that he will challenge Denis Healey for the Deputy Leadership of the British Labour Party.

April 11 – Brixton riot (1981): Rioters in South London throw petrol bombs, attack police and loot shops.

May 7 – The Greater London Council election results in a small Labour majority. On May 8, Ken Livingstone becomes Leader of the Council.

June 13 – At the Trooping the Colour ceremony in London, Marcus Sarjeant fires 6 blank shots at Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

July 3 – The Toxteth riots in Liverpool, UK start after a mob saves a youth from being arrested. Shortly afterward, the Chapeltown riots in Leeds start after increased racial tension.

July 29 – Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales.

September 14 – Margaret Thatcher appoints Cecil Parkinson as Chairman of the Conservative Party.

September 16 – In Britain, the Liberal Party Assembly votes for an electoral pact with the new Social Democratic Party.

September 27 – Denis Healey retains the post of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, beating Tony Benn by 50.426% to 49.574%.

October 10 – A Provisional IRA bomb at Chelsea Barracks in London kills a woman pensioner.

October 26 – An IRA bomb in a Wimpy Bar in Oxford Street, London, kills a bomb disposal expert.

November 12 – The Church of England General Synod votes to admit women to holy orders.


February 24 – A powerful, magnitude 6.7 earthquake hits Athens, killing 16 people, injuring thousands and destroying several buildings, mostly in Corinth and the nearby towns of Loutraki, Kiato and Xylokastro.

October 21 – Andreas Papandreou becomes Prime Minister of Greece.


February 14 - Stardust fire in Dublin, Ireland leaving 48 dead.

March 1 – Bobby Sands, a Provisional Irish Republican Army member, begins a hunger strike for political status in Long Kesh prison

April 10 – IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands wins the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election.

May 5 – Bobby Sands, Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteer and elected member of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, dies aged 27 while on hunger strike in HM Prison Maze.

July 8 – Irish Republican Joe McDonnell dies at the Long Kesh Internment Camp after a 61-day hunger strike.


March 17 – In Italy the Propaganda Due Masonic Lodge is discovered. It is in contravention to Italian law forbidding secret societies.

May 10 – In Italy a popular referendum rejects the abrogation of the law allowing abortion.

May 26 – The Italian government resigns over its links to the fascist Masonic cell Propaganda Due.


February 9 – Polish Prime Minister Józef Pinkowski resigns and is replaced by General Wojciech Jaruzelski.


February 23 – Antonio Tejero, with members of the Guardia Civil, enters the Spanish Congress of Deputies and stops the session where Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo is about to be named president of the government. The coup d'état fails thanks to King Juan Carlos.

September 10 – Picasso's painting "Guernica" is moved from New York to Madrid.


November 30 – Cold War: In Geneva, representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union begin negotiating intermediate-range nuclear weapon reductions in Europe (the meetings end inconclusively on Thursday, December 17).


May 13 – Pope John Paul II is shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish gunman, as he enters St. Peter's Square in Rome to address a general audience.


June 6 – Bihar train disaster: Seven coaches of an overcrowded passenger train fall off the tracks into the River Kosi in Bihar, India; about 800 die.


May 30 – Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman is assassinated in Chittagong.

§Middle East


October 6 – Egyptian president Anwar Sadat is assassinated during a parade by army members who belong to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization; they opposed his negotiations with Israel.

October 14 – Vice President Hosni Mubarak is elected President of Egypt 1 week after Anwar Sadat's assassination.


June 22 – Iranian president Abolhassan Banisadr is deposed.


June 7 – The Israeli Air Force destroys Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.


July 17 – Israeli aircraft bomb Beirut, destroying multi-story apartment blocks containing the offices of PLO associated groups, killing approximately 300 civilians and resulting in worldwide condemnation and a U.S. embargo on the export of aircraft to Israel.

December 15 – A car bomb destroys the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 61 people; Syrian intelligence is blamed


August 19 – Gulf of Sidra incident (1981): Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi sends 2 Sukhoi Su-22 fighter jets to intercept 2 U.S. fighters over the Gulf of Sidra. The American jets destroy the Libyan fighters.

§United Arab Emirates

May 25 – In Riyadh, the Gulf Cooperation Council is created between Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

§North America


November 1 – Antigua and Barbuda gain independence from the United Kingdom.


July 21 – Tohui The Panda is born in Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, the first panda to ever be born and survive in captivity outside of China.

§United States

March 19 – Three workers are killed and 5 injured during a test of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

March 30 – U.S. President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C. hotel by John Hinckley, Jr. Two police officers and Press Secretary James Brady are also wounded.

July 2 – The Wonderland Gang, involved in the cocaine trade, is brutally murdered in a massacre involving Eddie Nash.

July 8 – California Governor Jerry Brown, faced with a Mediterranean fruit fly infestation, chooses to delay the aerial spraying of malathion, in favor of continuing ground-based eradication efforts.

July 17 – Hyatt Regency walkway collapse: Two skywalks filled with people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri collapse into a crowded atrium lobby, killing 114.

November 23 – Iran-Contra scandal: Ronald Reagan signs the top secret National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency to recruit and support Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

§U.S. Business

February 13 – Rupert Murdoch buys The Times and The Sunday Times for £12 million.

August 3 – The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) goes on strike.

August 5 – Ronald Reagan fires 11,359 striking air-traffic controllers who ignored his order for them to return to work.

August 7 – The Washington Star ceases publication after 128 years.

August 9 – Major League Baseball resumes from the strike with the All-Star Game in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.

August 12 – The original Model 5150 IBM PC (with a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 processor) is released in the United States at a base price of $1,565.

December 28 – The first American test-tube baby, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, is born in Norfolk, Virginia.

§U.S. Entertainment

March 6 – After 19 years hosting the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite signs off for the last time. He died in 2009.

August 1 – MTV (Music Television) is launched on cable television in the United States.

September 19 – Simon and Garfunkel perform The Concert in Central Park, a free concert in New York in front of approximately half a million people.

§U.S. Law

July 7 – President Ronald Reagan nominates the first woman, Sandra Day O'Connor, to the Supreme Court of the United States.

August 19 – U.S. President Ronald Reagan appoints the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor.

August 24 – Mark David Chapman is sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, after being convicted of murdering John Lennon in Manhattan 8 months earlier.

§U.S. Politics

January 20 – Ronald Reagan succeeds Jimmy Carter, as the 40th President of the United States. Minutes later, Iran releases the 52 Americans held for 444 days, ending the Iran hostage crisis.

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) became the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989) and the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975). At age 69, he was the oldest man ever to be elected President of the United States. Before entering politics, Reagan was a successful Hollywood and television actor, head of the Screen Actors Guild, and a spokesman for General Electric. He was a prominent New Dealer in the 1940s but by 1960 Reagan became staunch conservative and advocate of free markets. He strongly opposed communism and socialism, and as president he pursued policies for fewer regulations, lower taxes, free trade agreements and welfare reform.

Reagan's persuasive quotable speaking style earned Reagan the sobriquet "The Great Communicator," while his survival of several scandals and an assassination attempt earned him the nickname "The Teflon President." His legacies include restoring America's strength and prosperity following a period of stagflation in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the withdrawal from Vietnam, reaffirming America's commitment to free market economics, large budget deficits, rejecting Détente and escalating the Cold War with the Soviet Union through a military build-up and a firm foreign policy of "peace through strength," and peacefully ending the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev, including a massive reduction in nuclear arms. Notable appointments included Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

After leaving office, Reagan wrote a well-received autobiography titled An American Life. In several recent ratings of American presidents, Ronald Reagan ranked high. After suffering from Alzheimer's disease for at least a decade, he died in 2004 at the age of 93 in Bel-Air, California. He is the 2nd longest-lived president in U.S. history, just behind Gerald Ford.

Iranian Hostage Crisis Shortly after the election, but before the inauguration of President Reagan, the Carter administration, with the assistance of intermediaries such as Algerian diplomat Abdulkarim Ghuraib, opened fruitful, but demeaning, negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. This resulted in the "Algiers Accords" of January 19, 1981, which entailed Iran's commitment to free the hostages immediately.

Point I: Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs, was essential to the Algiers Accords, and was reportedly considered a non-negotiable requirement by Iran. The Carter Administration reluctantly conceded Point I, which read:

"The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs."

Other provisions of the Algiers Accords were the unfreezing of $8 billion of Iranian assets and immunity from lawsuits Iran might have faced. On January 20, 1981, twenty minutes after President Reagan's inaugural address, the hostages were formally released into U.S. custody, having spent 444 days in captivity. The hostages were flown to Algeria as a symbolic gesture for the help of that government in resolving the crisis, where former President Carter, acting as an emissary for the Reagan administration, received them. The flight continued to Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany. After medical check-ups and debriefings, they took a second flight to Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, N.Y. and a bus ride to the United States Military Academy, receiving a hero's welcome all along the route. Ten days after their release, the former hostages were given a ticker tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in New York City.

AIDS June 5 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 5 homosexual men in Los Angeles, California have a rare form of pneumonia seen only in patients with weakened immune systems (the first recognized cases of AIDS).



February 4 – Gro Harlem Brundtland becomes Prime Minister of Norway.


October 27 – A Soviet submarine runs aground outside the Karlskrona, Sweden military base.

§South America


July 17 – In Bolivia, General Luis Gracia Meza leads a bloody coup d'état against the elected government of Lidia Gayler.


March 11 – Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet is sworn in as President of Chile for another 8-year term.

§Southeast Asia


April 1 - April Fools Day coup, the Young Turks took over Bangkok in a bloodless coup of overwhelming military force, without informing King Bhumibol Adulyadej in advance, as had sometimes happened. The Thai royal family immediately fled to Korat province, along with Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda. With royal support for the Government thus made clear, Arthit Kamlang-ek led troops loyal to Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy Class 5 in a bloodless counter-coup that recaptured the capital. The coup attempt later became known as the April Fool's Day Coup or the Mesa Hawaii Coup.

§South Pacific


February 14 – Australia withdraws recognition of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.

April 15 – The Australian Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock resigns from the cabinet, accusing Prime Minister Fraser of gross disloyalty.


January – The subterranean Sarawak chamber is discovered in Borneo.


July 10 – Mahathir bin Mohamad becomes the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia.

§New Zealand

July 19 – The 1981 Springbok Tour commences in New Zealand, amid controversy over the support of apartheid.


January 1 – Palau becomes self-governing.


January 17 – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos lifts martial law.


April 12 – The Space Shuttle program: Space Shuttle Columbia (John Young, Robert Crippen) launches on the STS-1 mission, returning to Earth on April 14.

November 12 – STS-2: Space Shuttle Columbia (Joe Engle, Richard Truly) lifts off for its second mission.


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