Highlights of world events from January to March 2015

World events during the first quarter of the year include an attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the downing of a Germanwings jet by its pilot and a visit by Pope Francis to Asia.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (ITN) – While people cheered in the New Year, 2015, throughout the world, celebrations were cut short in China’s Shanghai when a stampede killed 36 people and injured 49 during the festivities. Most of those killed were in their 20s.

The Shanghai government said large crowds started to stampede in Chen Yi Square in the city’s Bund waterfront district just before midnight.

The search for victims and wreckage of AirAsia flight QZ8501 continued in the New Year, after the plane crashed into the Java Sea on December 28.

The Airbus A320-200, carrying 162 people, crashed while trying to climb above stormy weather, during a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

A multi-national rescue effort, led by the Indonesian military and often hampered by bad weather and strong currents, eventually recovered 106 bodies, with 56 unaccounted for.

At a hospital in Surabaya, the remains of the first victim to be identified were handed over to her grieving family.

Twelve people were killed on January 7 when two Islamist gunmen burst into the Paris office of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, opening fire in revenge for the publication of satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad.

During the attack, one of the assailants was captured on video outside the building shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Greatest) as shots rang out. Another walked over to police officer Ahmed Merabet lying wounded on the street and shot him point-blank with an assault rifle, before the two calmly climbed into a black car and drove off.

Further video showed two gunmen shouting “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammad” and “al Qaeda Yemen” before reloading their automatic weapons and starting to drive their black Citroen getaway car down a narrow street. But their path was blocked by a police car which arrived with blue lights flashing. Both men got out of the Citroen and fired at the police vehicle, which rapidly reversed away from the scene before halting about 200 metres away.

A total of 17 people were killed in three days of violence before police killed the suspected gunmen after they took hostages at a printing factory in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris.

Pope Francis was greeted by a line of decorated elephants as he began a three-day visit to Sri Lanka on January 13.

Francis is the first Pope to visit Sri Lanka since the 2009 end of a bitter civil war that pitted mostly Hindu Tamils from the north against the majority Buddhist Sinhala population, and his visit followed by just days, an election that defeated the wartime leadership. The pope brought a message of inter-faith dialogue, chiming with a pledge by Sri Lanka’s new government for religious harmony.

In the Philippines, huge crowds braved the rain to line the streets for Pope Francis as he arrived for an outdoor mass.

He was greeted by pilgrims doing what they called the ‘Francis Wave’. Millions of attendees, including priests, waved their arms as a ripple of welcome wove through the crowd.

City officials said some four million people gathered in Manila’s Rizal Park and even more in surrounding areas to witness the event which brought to an end Francis’s week-long trip to Asia.

On January 20, Houthi rebels battled their way into Yemen’s presidential palace. Video obtained by Reuters shows a fireball erupting at the palace, dark clouds of smoke and audio of an explosion. Houthis warned President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to implement a power-sharing deal struck when the rebels seized the capital Sanaa in September.

Hadi, an ally of the West and staunch supporter of U.S. drone attacks on al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen, had been increasingly at odds with the Houthi over a draft constitution intended to help end decades of conflict and underdevelopment.

Days later, thousands took to the streets to protest against the Houthi.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, one of the richest men in history, was carried in a simple white shroud to an unmarked grave on January 23 after his death earlier that day.

Wahhabi Sunni Islam, the form of religion practised by the Saudi state, considers ostentatious displays of grief or mourning to be sinful and akin to idolatry.

Meanwhile world leaders travelled to Riyadh to pay their respects, and meet with new King Salman. U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Britain’s Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko were among them.

Violence continued in eastern Ukraine in January. At least seven civilians were killed and a dozen injured in an attack at a bus-stop in the rebel-held city of Donetsk on January 22, while a day later in Mariupol a car dashboard camera showed shells exploding in a residential area. Mariupol’s city administration said rebels had killed at least 30 people and injured 83 others by firing rockets from long-range GRAD missile systems. Separatists denied responsibility for the attack.

Moscow denied sending forces and weapons to east Ukraine, despite what the West says is irrefutable proof.

Greeks took to the polls on January 25 for an election that would see a decisive victory for the leftwing Syriza party. Thousands flocked to the streets to celebrate and cheer for leader Alexis Tsipras. Addressing the crowd of flag-waving supporters, Tsipras claimed a mandate to overturn the painful austerity policies imposed on Athens by international creditors. He was sworn in as prime minister the next day.

In late January a blizzard swept across the northeastern United States, closing schools, cancelling thousands of flights. The powerful storm walloped Boston and surrounding New England, leaving some 4.5 million people grappling with as much as three feet of snow and coastal flooding, but spared New York City residents who had braced themselves for a significant blast.

On January 20 Islamic State released a video in which two Japanese hostages appeared, the militant group threatening to kill them within 72 hours if the Japanese government did not pay $200 million (USD).

The clip showed a figure wearing black clothing and holding a knife, standing along with two kneeling men wearing orange clothes. He was later identified as Kuwaiti-born Briton Mohammed Emwazi, who became known as “Jihadi John”.

The video identified the hostages as Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto. They were later beheaded.

Yukawa was seized by militants in August 2014 after going to Syria to launch a security company. Goto was a veteran war correspondent captured by the militants in late October when he went to Syria seeking Yukawa’s release.

On February 3 Islamic State militants released a video purporting to show a captive Jordanian pilot being burnt alive, and Jordanian state television said he had been murdered a month before.

The pilot was captured by Islamic State insurgents after his plane crashed over Syria while on a bombing mission against the group in December.

On February 1 Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste was released from a Cairo jail and left Egypt for his native Australia after 400 days in prison on charges that included aiding a terrorist group.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera confirmed his release in a news bulletin.

“One of our journalists Peter Greste has been freed from prison after 400 days behind bars,” said news presenter Jane Dutton.

“This is a moment that I’ve rehearsed in my mind at least 400 times over the past well, 400 days,” said Greste after embracing well-wishers on his arrival in Brisbane a few days later.

Greste’s two Al Jazeera colleagues – Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed – were also jailed in the case that provoked an international outcry.

The three were sentenced to seven to 10 years on charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organisation – a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

On February 4 amateur video shot from the dashboard of a car recorded the moment a TransAsia plane clipped an overpass with its port-side wing and crashed into a river in Taipei, killing 43 people.

The plane, with 58 passengers and crew on board, cartwheeled into a river shortly after taking off from a downtown Taipei airport. It appeared to miss apartment buildings by metres.

Heavy fighting between Ukrainian army units and pro-Russian separatists continued around the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve, in the east of the country, in early February.

Ukrainian forces fired Grad multiple rocket launchers on separatist positions, remaining in control of Debaltseve, despite intense shelling by the pro-Russian rebels.

In the nearby town of Vuhlehirsk, video provided by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed rebel forces also firing Grad multiple rocket launchers.

Meanwhile in Donetsk, an apartment block was set ablaze after shells hit a residential area on February 9.

Residents watched their home burning in despair as firefighters sprayed the blaze with water. One elderly woman was unable to stand as she cried, watching her home burning.

The renewed fighting came as the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany prepared to meet in Minsk on February 11 to try to hammer out a peace plan to end the 10-month conflict which had already killed 5,000 people.

After talks through the night, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, agreed on a peace deal. The agreement included a ceasefire that would come into effect on February 15, followed by the withdrawal of heavy weapons.

But both sides were accused of breaking the ceasefire in the coming days, and the destruction of Donetsk airport was a stark reminder of the havoc the conflict had already caused.

On Valentine’s Day, two weeks after his release from prison, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein walked up to a Copenhagen cafe hosting a debate on freedom of speech and sprayed it with bullets.

As a manhunt began, the 22-year-old went to ground. Nine hours later he launched a second assault, this time on a synagogue. Police eventually shot him dead, ending a rampage that left Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard and security guard Dan Uzan dead, and six people wounded.

Islamic State released video on February 15 which purported to show the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya. The Coptic Church confirmed that 21 men believed to be held by Islamic State were dead.

Egypt responded by carrying out an air strike against IS targets in Libya the following day.

On February 20, Jerusalem residents woke up to find their city covered in snow. The thin layer blanketed the Old City, including the 8th-century al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third most sacred place. Despite the weather, Jews continued to pray at the city’s Western Wall.

Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot four times in the back on February 27, his body left lying on a bridge near the Kremlin. He was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s biggest opponents of Russia’s role in Ukraine.

His killing saw tens of thousands take to the streets in his memory,

The authorities suggested the opposition itself may have been behind the shooting in an attempt to create a martyr and unite the fractured movement. Nemtsov’s supporters blamed the authorities.

Chile’s towering Villarrica volcano erupted on the night of March 2, spewing incandescent rock and lava fragments into the air.

The volcano, located near the popular tourist resort of Pucon around 750 km (460 miles) south of the capital Santiago, is one of South America’s most active. It last erupted in 2000.

A column of ash and rock particles shot up to 3 km (nearly 2 miles) into the sky overnight.

Residents from nearby communities were evacuated from the area.

Iraqi government forces and Iran-backed militiamen began an offensive against Islamic State insurgents in Tikrit in March.

On March 6, military commanders said the army and mostly Shi’ite militia forces had retaken the town of al-Dour on Tikrit’s outskirts, known outside Iraq as the area where executed former dictator Saddam was found hiding in a pit near a farm house in 2003.

Four days later, troops entering the town of al-Alam were met by joyful residents waving white flags and greeting soldiers with hugs, ululations and sweets.

Islamic State fighters seized Tikrit and much of northern Iraq in June 2014 before declaring a cross-border caliphate in Sunni Muslim regions of Syria and Iraq under their control.

On March 5, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea was attacked by a Korean nationalist in Seoul. Kim Ki-jong was charged with attempted murder after the attack on Mark Lippert, who was slashed in the face with a fruit knife during a forum on Korean reunification. Lippert suffered deep gashes to his face and wrist and was in hospital for five days.

On March 9, two Swiss pilots embarked on an attempt to fly around the world on a solar-powered airplane. Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi just after dawn on a journey which was expected to include stopovers in India, Myanmar and China before crossing the Pacific Ocean and flying across the United States and southern Europe to arrive back in Abu Dhabi. The engines were powered only by solar energy.

Also on March 9, three French sports stars were among ten people killed when two helicopters collided in a remote region of Argentina during the filming of a reality TV show.

Olympic swimmer Camille Muffat, yachtswoman Florence Arthaud and boxer Alexis Vastine were taking part in the adventure show “Dopped”, where contestants are left in the wilderness to find their way back to civilization.

In mid-March Cyclone Pam pummelled the impoverished island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Eleven people were killed and there was widespread damage.

Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is a sprawling cluster of more than 80 islands and 260,000 people, 2,000 km (1,250 miles) northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane.

Perched on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the world’s poorest nations suffers from frequent earthquakes and tsunamis and has several active volcanoes, in addition to threats from storms and rising sea levels.

More than a million demonstrators marched in cities and towns across Brazil on March 15 to protest a sluggish economy, rising prices, corruption and to call for the impeachment of leftist President Dilma Rousseff.

The marches across the continent-sized country came as Brazil struggled to overcome economic and political malaise and pick up the pieces of a boom that crumbled once Rousseff took office in 2011.

Underscoring class divisions, marchers said Rousseff and the ruling party had instigated the polarisation by trying to pit their traditional supporters, the recipients of popular social welfare programmes, against the rest of Brazil.

Israel’s March 17 election saw a surprise win for sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his Likud party made a shift to the right.

In the final days of campaigning, Netanyahu abandoned a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state – the basis of more than two decades of Middle East peacemaking – and promised to go on building settlements on occupied land.

On March 18 two gunmen attacked Tunisia’s Bardo Museum, shooting foreign tourists as they filed off buses outside, and then taking more tourists hostage inside the building.

Over three hours they killed 22 people in all, including French, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish visitors. Security forces eventually stormed the building and shot and killed the hostage-takers.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack although the Tunisian government said fighters from a local group, Okba Ibn Nafaa, were involved.

A solar eclipse thrilled thousands of sky gazers on remote Arctic islands on March 20, the only places where the total eclipse was visible from land. On the Faroe Islands, clouds masked the sky, disappointing many who had come to see the rare celestial show. But others were awestruck by the sudden darkness.

In space, a European Space Agency mini satellite was able to capture the phenomenon.

Violence continued in Yemen in March with demonstrators in Taiz taking to the streets to protest a Houthi take-over of the central highland city. Houthi fighters took control of the city on March 22. The next day, protesters surrounded a military camp in an effort to prevent the rebels from heading south and attacking Aden.

Days later, explosions rocked Aden’s largest arms depot, sending flames and smoke into the sky.

On March 24 a Germanwings jet, flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

A preliminary report into the crash of the A320 found 27-year-old co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit and deliberately steered the plane into a mountain.

The report confirmed a growing picture of painstaking preparations carried out by Lubitz.

Prosecutors found evidence that the co-pilot, who had suffered from severe depression, had researched suicide methods and concealed an illness from his employer, prompting airline industry executives to review pilot screening and licensing

The crash pulverised the aircraft and made the recovery efforts extremely complicated.

On March 29 tens of thousands of Singaporeans waving flags braved heavy rain and lined the streets to catch a last glimpse of the country’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

The nation came to a near-halt as Lee’s coffin was taken by gun carriage on a 15 km procession through the streets of the country he helped build to his state funeral. Lee died aged 91 and is credited with founding modern Singapore and transforming it from a small, colonial British trading port into one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

In northern Brazil a bus fell through a large crater that had formed in a road and was carried away by rushing flood water.

The passengers were able to escape the bus before it was swallowed up by the massive hole and nobody was hurt.

As the month came to an end, floods and landslides in northern Chile and Peru saw dozens of people killed and thousands of houses destroyed.