Pope Francis: In his first nine months as the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis succeeded in changing the conversation about the role of the church at a time when its reputation was still smarting from sexual abuse and corruption scandals and declining attendance. The former archbishop of Buenos Aires earned the respect of believers and non-believers alike with his disarming humility and message of compassion and acceptance. He urged the church to be more inclusive and less rigid in its stance on divisive issues such as gay rights, while not renouncing the church's positions on social issues such as abortion. He used his first papal exhortation to brand unfettered capitalism "the new tyranny" and to denounce the "idolatry of money." Francis called for an end to "an economy of exclusion and inequality" and urged a more equal distribution of wealth and a more merciful church concerned less with moral doctrines and more engaged with problems of the people. Francis sent a strong message in October by expelling a German bishop who had spent $4 million on his residence and was dubbed the "luxury bishop" for his extravagant spending. Francis was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2013.
Edward Snowden: The whistleblower captured attention around the world and vindicated conspiracy theorists who had long suspected their communications were being monitored. The 29-year-old computer analyst, who had been a contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, released a torrent of top-secret material documenting extensive government surveillance targeting the phone and internet communications of U.S. citizens and foreigners. Although branded a traitor and a spy, Snowden insisted that sabotaging his country was never his goal. "I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he told the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald. After making the NSA leaks public from the safety of Hong Kong, Snowden sought a country that would grant him asylum, setting off diplomatic scuffles between those countries and the U.S., which wanted Snowden extradited to face charges at home. Snowden finally landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he spent several weeks in diplomatic limbo in the airport's transit terminal, dodging reporters, before being granted one year's asylum by Russia.
Glenn Greenwald: The Guardian journalist, along with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, was the person Edward Snowden chose to handle the release of the NSA documents and became the other public face of the story. The former civil rights lawyer and Salon magazine contributor flew to Hong Kong with Poitras in June to meet with Snowden and conducted the first interview with the whistleblower. Greenwald spent the next few months meticulously tracking the scope and implications of the Snowden leaks, which extended beyond the U.S. to countries such as Canada, the U.K., Germany and Latin America and to some of the world's biggest technology and telecommunications companies, such as Google and Verizon, which helped the NSA carry out surveillance. Greenwald's reputation for a fearless pursuit of the truth which was tested when his life partner was detained for several hours under anti-terror legislation at Heathrow Airport, in what Greenwald suspected was retaliation for his reporting on a similar surveillance program in the U.K. He left the Guardian in October to pursue his own journalistic venture.
Ted Cruz: The junior senator from Texas who helped bring the U.S. government to a halt for two and a half weeks in October was a relative unknown before he launched into a 21-hour rant on the Senate floor that highlighted the Republican effort to defund President Barack Obama's health-care reform. Cruz hoped his speech would block the passing of the government's budget bill, but all it did was start a bitter round of partisan wrangling over Obama's Affordability of Care Act. This went on so long that the government was unable to get its budget through Congress before the Sept. 30 deadline and ran out of money to pay its own workers. About 700,000 government employees were sent home as of Oct. 1 and the government was forced to shut national parks, museums and monuments while halting veterans' benefits and other services. Globally, investors and markets watched nervously as the shutdown dragged on and put the U.S. at risk of defaulting on its debt. The stalemate lasted until Oct. 16 and engendered much hostility among the American people — especially toward Cruz — including within his own party, many of whose members felt Cruz's strategy had been a tactical error that would hurt Republicans' chances in the next election.
Prince George: Born on July 22, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had been talked about pretty much from the day the couple got married in 2011, when speculation started about when a baby might appear. Hordes of media and royal watchers descended upon London in July to wait for the birth of William and Kate's first child and greeted the family with cheers as they emerged from the private St. Mary's Hospital a day after the birth. "He's got her looks, thankfully," Prince William quipped to the crowd. Bookmakers who had been speculating about the name of the heir to the throne were happy to find out two days later that the new prince would be named George Alexander Louis. George had been the bookies' favourite for a first name. George, who is third in line to the throne after his grandfather Charles and his father William, made headlines again in October when he was christened in an elaborate satin and lace gown, and he will surely be making news for years to come.
Mohammed Morsi: Egypt's first democratically elected president since the popular overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 lasted a mere 12 months before he was ousted from power in July by the same military that forced Mubarak out. An avowed Islamist and member of the formerly outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi was viewed with skepticism by the West, but among a sizable part of the Egyptian population he was an expression of popular will that had been suppressed under Mubarak’s dictatorial rule. Secular Egyptians, however, feared a growing influence of religion on the country's politics under his rule, and it was they who poured onto the streets of Cairo in June calling for his resignation. Supporters and opponents of Morsi clashed violently, and about 50 people died before the military gave Morsi an ultimatum to come to an agreement with his opponents or step down. When he didn't comply, Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi suspended the constitution and arrested Morsi and several members of the Muslim Brotherhood, setting off more violent protests that have left dozens dead in the ensuing months. Morsi remains in prison facing charges related to the deaths of several protesters outside his presidential palace in 2012.
Nelson Mandela: The hero of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement and the country's first black president was honoured around the world after his death in November at the age of 95. Politicians, cultural figures, activists and ordinary people recalled the lasting influence Mandela had on his country and on them personally. His death was an opportunity to highlight the historic events Mandela helped bring about — from his release after almost three decades of imprisonment in 1990, which heralded the end of the racist apartheid regime, to his swearing-in as president after South Africa's first free post-apartheid elections in 1994. Dozens of current and former world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, attended a massive memorial service for Mandela in Johannesburg in December.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: One of two Chechen brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 250, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev grabbed the world's attention during the citywide manhunt for the two brothers following the April 15 bombing. The brothers eluded police for several days before Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with officers. Dzhokhar, 19, at the time, escaped and remained on the run for several hours as police placed all of Boston under lockdown and conducted door-to-door searches. A Boston resident eventually found him hiding in a boat in his backyard. In August, Tsarnaev made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and set off a debate about whether the media was turning the shaggy-haired college student into a celebrity. He has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction and 16 other charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty. His trial is expected early next year.
Ariel Castro: A Puerto Rican-born former school bus driver who was described by his Cleveland neighbours as a regular guy was exposed as a sadistic, violent abuser and sexual predator, when one of three women being held captive by him broke free on May 6 and called 911. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were abducted by Castro as teenagers and held captive for about 10 years, during which time they were bound in ropes and chains and repeatedly sexually and psychologically abused. Berry gave birth to a daughter in captivity, who was six when the women were rescued. At Castro's trial witnesses described the horrific conditions of the women's captivity, while Castro told the court he was "not a monster" but suffered from an addiction to pornography. Castro was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole plus 1,000 years, but four months later was found hanged in his cell in an apparent suicide.
Oscar Pistorius: The South African sprinter was the first double amputee to take part in the Olympics and was dubbed the "blade runner" for the carbon-fibre prosthetic feet he wore in races. Fans were shocked when the athlete's girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead by Pistorius at his home in February. The celebrity couple had been dating for only a few months, and the 30-year-old model had tweeted hours before her death about how excited she was for Valentine's Day. Pistorius alleged he had shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door by accident, mistaking her for an intruder, but prosecutors charged him with her murder in August. His trial is to resume in March 2014.
George Zimmerman: Trayvon Martin, a black unarmed teenager, was shot to death by Zimmerman while walking through a gated community in Florida neighbourhood in 2012, but it was in 2013 that the verdict finding Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder sparked outrage across the U.S. When the jury acquitted the former neighbourhood watch captain in July, rallies demanding justice for Martin erupted in many parts of the country and the debate about the state of race relations dominated newscasts and late-night talk shows. Rev. Al Sharpton, Beyoncé, Jay-Z and even U.S. President Barack Obama weighed in, with Obama telling media that the teenager "could have been me 35 years ago." The Zimmerman controversy did not end with his acquittal. One juror went on U.S. television and revealed details about jury deliberations, saying that Zimmerman "got away with murder." Zimmerman made headlines again in September and November in connection with domestic disturbances involving his estranged wife and his girlfriend.
Vladimir Putin: The Russian president made few friends in 2013, angering the West with his continued support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the imprisonment of Greenpeace activists and his refusal to revoke a ban on homosexual "propaganda" ahead of the Sochi Olympics. The passing in June of a law banning the spread of "propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations" to minors prompted a debate about whether athletes should boycott the Winter Olympics. Olympic and Russian officials gave assurances that the law would not affect those attending the Games, but several world leaders continued to urge Russia to change the law, with U.S. President Barack Obama announcing in December that he would be sending a delegation of gay athletes to the event. Putin also earned rebukes form world leaders over the arrest of 30 Greenpeace activists who were protesting drilling in the Arctic and for reportedly pressuring Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to walk away from a customs union with the EU. Protesters turned out en masse urging Yanukovych to break with the country's Soviet past and ally the country with the West. By year's end, Russia's parliament, the Duma, had passed an amnesty law for non-violent, first-time offenders that was expected to result in the release of the jailed activists as well as two members of the punk band Pussy Riot who have been serving a two-year sentence in a Siberian prison.
Silvio Berlusconi: In Italy in the past decades, rarely a year has gone by without Berlusconi making news, but 2013 might go down as the year that the former Italian president finally disappeared from the headlines. The longtime politician and billionaire media mogul known for his lavish bunga-bunga parties and politically incorrect gaffes was convicted of tax fraud in August when Italy's Supreme Court upheld an earlier conviction against him. The 77-year-old won't serve any jail time, since in Italy felons over the age of 70 generally get house arrest or community service, but the conviction was a milestone because it was the first against him in more than 30 legal cases. The final nail in the coffin of Berlusconi's political career came four months later when the Italian Senate expelled him from parliament. Berlusconi displayed his signature bluster and called it a "day of mourning for democracy."- Berlusconi's long slow fade to black
Bashar al-Assad: As the Syrian civil war stretched past its second year, President Bashar al-Assad showed no sign of loosening his grip on the country. The conflict between Assad's regime and dozens of armed opposition forces, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives and forced more than two million Syrians to flee the country since it began in March 2011, reached new levels of atrocity when it was discovered that the Syrian government had used the nerve gas sarin in an attack outside the capital, Damascus. Graphic videos from the scene of the Aug. 21 attack showed people convulsing and gasping for air and rows of bodies lined up on the ground. The attack killed more than 1,300 people, including children and other civilians. UN weapons inspectors confirmed that chemical weapons were used in the Aug. 21 attack and probably on at least four other occasions. The U.S. and its allies threatened to use force if Syria did not dismantle its chemical weapons production facilities, and in a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia, Assad agreed to destroy the country's stockpile by mid-2014. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversaw the decommissioning of Syria's chemical weapon production sites, received the Nobel Peace Prize in October for its efforts.