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Skiing, spinach, stingrays and standoffs

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(CNN) -- As 2006 draws to a close, we take a look back at the stories that have dominated headlines over the last 12 months.

January 25: Hamas election victory

In elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (also known as the Palestinian Parliament,) the main ruling body of the Palestinian National Authority, Hamas -- a group listed as a terrorist organization by, among others, the U.S., UK and European Union -- won a shock victory over the incumbent ruling Fatah party. Responsible for numerous suicide bombings against Israel, and with a founding charter that explicitly calls for Israel's destruction, Hamas' victory cast a pall over an already moribund peace process.

February 10-26: Winter Olympics

The 20th Winter Olympics were held in Turin in Italy, the second time the city has hosted the event, with a record 80 countries competing. The medal table was headed by Germany, whose competitors won 11 Gold, 12 Silver and six bronze medals.

March 28: Olmert wins Israeli election

Ehud Olmert's centrist Kadima party wins Israel's parliamentary elections, securing 29 of the 120 seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and signalling an end to the traditional electoral dominance of Israel's two other main political groups, the center-left Labor party, and the center-right Likud party. Kadima was formed in 2005 by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who headed the party until a massive stroke forced him to hand control to Olmert in January 2006. Sharon remains in a coma.

April 10: U.S. Immigration Protests

Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in more than 140 U.S. cities in 39 states, demanding that the nation's estimated 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants get a chance to live the American dream. In Washington, the House and Senate passed vastly different versions of immigration reform, but a comprehensive bill proved elusive before the November midterms. Instead, Congress approved a 700-mile fence along one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border, which Bush signed into law 12 days before the election.

May 17: McCartney-Mills separate

Paul McCartney and Heather Mills said they were separating after four years of marriage. Mills, who has a young daughter with McCartney, was expected to claim a large share of the former Beatle's fortune. Newspapers published alleged court documents claiming McCartney mistreated Mills; Sir Paul vowed to "vigorously" defend himself. Elsewhere, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline split up, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt went to Namibia to have their baby, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had a child and got married, and Madonna sparked controversy by adopting a Malawian baby.

May 25: Enron Trial

After four years of investigations, 16 weeks of testimony and six days of jury deliberations, Enron former Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay were found guilty of conspiracy and fraud. The former executives were convicted of misleading the public about the financial health of Enron, whose 2001 collapse symbolized a wave of corporate fraud that swept the U.S. Lay, 64, died of coronary disease on July 5 while awaiting sentencing. Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison on October 23.

June 7: Al-Zarqawi killed

Two 500-pound bombs ended the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted insurgent in Iraq. Acting on a maze of intelligence and tips, the military targeted a "safe house" north of Baquba in which the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was staying. Air Force F-16 warplanes launched the bombs, reducing the house to rubble. A Jordanian-born Sunni militant with a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, al-Zarqawi was believed to have the blood of thousands on his hands as leader of the group behind numerous beheadings, assassinations and bombings.

July 9: World Cup final

Italy won a penalty shootout 5-3 to lift the World Cup for the fourth time after Zinedine Zidane was sensationally sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi. The French captain was shown the red card in the final match of his career near the end of the final, which was tied 1-1 after extra time. A few months later, Materazzi broke his silence, telling Gazzetta dello Sport it was a remark he made about Zidane's sister that provoked the incident. Materazzi said that when Zidane offered to give him his France jersey in response to persistent shirt-tugging by the Italian, he had replied: "I would prefer your sister."

July 11: Mumbai train blasts

A series of seven explosions killed at least 186 people and wounded about 700 others on crowded commuter trains and stations during evening rush hour in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai. India has accused Pakistan's intelligence agency and a Pakistan-based Islamist militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, of involvement, but Pakistan and the group have denied any links. In November, Indian police charged more than two dozen people in connection with the attack, including 13 in custody.

July 12: Israel-Hezbollah war

Israel launched a series of bombing raids into Lebanon after Hezbollah forces crossed into Israel, killing three soldiers and abducting two more, a move the Israeli prime minister called an "act of war." A month later, a cease-fire took effect, and displaced civilians began returning home. About a million people on each side of the border were displaced, officials said. The conflict left 908 dead and 3,877 wounded in Lebanon, and 159 dead and more than 1,000 wounded in Israel, authorities in the two countries said.

August 2: Tainted spinach

An outbreak of E. coli bacteria in spinach killed at least three people and sickened 199 others in 26 U.S. states. An elderly Nebraska woman, a Wisconsin adult and a 2-year-old Idaho boy died in the outbreak, which was found to originate in spinach grown in three California counties. Federal officials said they determined that the first illness happened August 2, and recommended that consumers steer clear of any raw spinach. Across the country, the leafy green disappeared from grocery shelves and salad bars as producers recalled shipments.

August 10: Trans-Atlantic plot foiled

Terrorists were in the "final stages" of a plot to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 jets leaving Britain for the United States when British and Pakistani authorities teamed up to thwart the attacks, officials said. It was believed the plotters planned to mix a sports drink with a gel-like substance to make a potent explosive that could be ignited with an MP3 player or cell phone. News of the plot created travel chaos, as flights were canceled and passengers were forbidden from bringing liquids on board.

August 31 Iran nuclear standoff

Iran defied a United Nations deadline calling for the Islamic republic to halt its nuclear activities or face sanctions. Tehran insists its program is for peaceful purposes only, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed not to give in to Western interests. But the Bush administration suspects Iran is using its nuclear program to develop weapons, and President Bush has called for worldwide isolation of Iran until it "gives up its nuclear ambitions." China and Russia -- both veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- have been reluctant to sanction Iran, and Moscow proceeded with arms deals with Tehran.

September 4: 'Crocodile Hunter' killed

Steve Irwin, the enthusiastic "Crocodile Hunter" who enthralled audiences around the world with his wildlife adventures, was killed by a stingray barb that pierced his chest while he was shooting a TV program on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia. Irwin, 44, is survived by his wife, Terri, and their two children, Bindi Sue and Robert. "The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," Irwin's manager and friend John Stainton told reporters. "He died doing what he loved best."

October 2: Amish school shooting

A heavily armed truck driver barricaded himself in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, killing five girls execution-style before killing himself, police said. The killer told his wife he had molested children 20 years ago and was dreaming about doing it again. He brought lubricant to the schoolhouse, but there was no evidence the victims were sexually assaulted. It was the nation's third deadly school shooting in a week. In Colorado, a 53- year-old man sexually assaulted hostages before killing a 16-year-old student and then himself. And a high school student in Wisconsin was suspected of killing his principal after being disciplined for carrying tobacco.

October 9: North Korea nuclear test

North Korea's official news agency reported the country had performed a successful underground nuclear test. Five days later, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on North Korea as punishment for the test. North Korea rejected the resolution and walked out of the Security Council chamber. The test came three months after North Korea test-fired six missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 rocket believed capable of reaching the western United States. The Taepodong rocket failed after 40 seconds, but the United States denounced the tests as "provocative."

November 5: Saddam Hussein verdict

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and two other defendants were sentenced to death by hanging for a brutal 1982 crackdown in the Shiite town of Dujail, a verdict that was upheld by an appeal court on December 26. The former dictator is due to be executed before the end of January, although the precise date and place are being kept secret. Since Hussein's fall, Iraq has been plagued by insurgent and sectarian violence, which many commentators are now referring to as a full-blown civil war. A December report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group called the situation "grave and deteriorating" and recommended changes in U.S. policy.

November 6: Ortega re-elected in Nicaragua

Following a November 5 election former president and one-time Marxist guerrilla Daniel Ortega is re-elected leader of Nicaragua with 38 percent of the vote (he had previously served as president from 1985-1990). His victory was part of a pattern of election successes for left-leaning candidates across South America, with Venezuela's avowedly leftist president Hugo Chavez winning a third term in office on December 3. In Mexico, meanwhile, Felipe Calderon's right-of-center National Action Party bucked the trend with a controversial victory (35.88% to 35.31% for opposition candidate Lopez Obrador) in the July 2 presidential election.

November 7: Democrats win midterms

Democrats took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in a dozen years in the 2006 U.S. midterm elections, and President Bush and top Democrats quickly promised to get along despite a rancorous campaign. The election results were seen as a referendum on Bush, the war in Iraq and congressional scandals. The day after the vote, Bush announced that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would be stepping down by the end of the year.

November 23: Ex-Russian spy poisoned

Former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital on November 23; large doses of polonium-210 were found in his body. Litvinenko, 43, was a longtime critic of the Russian government, which he blamed for his sudden, fatal illness. Russian authorities denied any role. Traces of the radioactive material have been found at Litvinenko's home, places he ate and where he held meetings just before falling ill, authorities say. Traces also were reported on British Airways planes, a London soccer stadium and the British Embassy in Moscow. British police said they are treating the death as a murder.

December 26: Gerald Ford dies

Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the U.S. and the only one never to win a national election, died aged 93. Ford assumed the presidency following Richard Nixon's resignation in August 1974, and was widely credited with restoring faith in America's political system after the trauma of the Watergate scandal that had forced Nixon from office. He served as president for two years -- surviving two assassination attempts -- before being defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.

And goodbye to:

Other prominent figures who died in 2006 include:

Shelley Winters, actress

Wilson Pickett, soul singer

Chris Penn, actor

Coretta Scott King, civil rights campaigner and widow of Martin Luther King

Peter Benchley, author

Dennis Weaver, actor

Slobodan Milosevic, former President of Yugoslavia

Gene Pitney, singer

Lee Jong-wook, Head of the World Health Organization

Desmond Dekker, singer

Aaron Spelling, Television Producer

Syd Barrett, founder member of Pink Floyd

Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian author

Pieter Willem Botha, former president of South Africa

Jack Palance, actor

Milton Friedman, Economist

Robert Altman, film director

Augusto Pinochet, fomer president/dictator of Chile

Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records

Joseph Barbera, animator

Caspar Weinberger, former U.S. defense secretary

Mickey Spillane, author

Red Buttons, actor

James Brown, singer


Zarqawi

Despite the death of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 2006 was another year of bloodshed and carnage in Iraq

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