The killing of Osama bin Laden during a raid by Navy SEALs on his hideout in Pakistan was the top news story of 2011, followed by Japan's earthquake and tsunami disaster, according to The Associated Press' annual poll of US editors and news directors.
The death of bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who masterminded the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, received 128 first-place votes out of 247 ballots cast for the top 10 stories. The Japan disaster was next, with 60 first-place votes. Placing third were the Arab Spring uprisings that rocked North Africa and the Middle East, while the European Union's financial turmoil was No. 4.
- Libya confirms: Muammar Gaddafi is dead
Jewish congresswoman shot in Arizona
Japan quake death toll keeps climbing
The international flavor of these top stories contrasted with last year's voting – when the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was the top story, President Barack Obama's health care overhaul was No. 2, and the US midterm elections were No. 3.
Here are 2011's top 10 stories, in order:
- Osama bin Laden's death: He'd been the world's most-wanted terrorist for nearly a decade, ever since a team of his al-Qaeda followers carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001. In May, the long and often-frustrating manhunt ended with a nighttime assault by a helicopter-borne special operations squad on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden was shot dead by one of the raiders, and within hours his body was buried at sea.
- Japan's triple disaster: A 9.0-magnitude earthquake off Japan's northeast coast in March unleashed a tsunami
that devastated scores of communities, leaving nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and wreaking an estimated $218 billion in damage. The tsunami triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl after waves knocked out the cooling system at a nuclear power plant, causing it to spew radiation that turned up in local produce. About 100,000 people evacuated from the area have not returned to their homes.
- Arab Spring: It began with demonstrations in Tunisia
that rapidly toppled the longtime strongman. Spreading like a wildfire, the Arab Spring protests sparked a revolution in Egypt
that ousted Hosni Mubarak,
fueled a civil war in Libya that climaxed with Muammar Gaddafi's
death, and fomented a bloody uprising in Syria against the Assad regime. Bahrain and Yemen also experienced major protests and unrest.
- EU fiscal crisis: The European Union was hit with relentless fiscal turmoil. In Greece,
austerity measures triggered strikes, protests and riots, while Italy's economic woes toppled Premier Silvio Berlusconi. France and Germany led urgent efforts to ease the debt crisis; Britain balked at proposed changes.
- US economy: By some measures, the US economy gained strength as the year progressed. Hiring picked up a bit, consumers were spending more, and the unemployment rate finally dipped below 9 percent. But millions of Americans remained buffeted by foreclosures, joblessness and benefit cutbacks, and investors were on edge monitoring the chain of fiscal crises in Europe.
- Penn State sex abuse scandal: One of America's most storied college football programs was tarnished in a scandal that prompted the firing of Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno. One of his former assistants, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of sexually molesting 10 boys; two senior Penn State officials were charged with perjury; and the longtime president was ousted. Paterno wasn't charged, but expressed regret he didn't do more after being told there was a problem.
- Gaddafi toppled in Libya: After nearly 42 years of mercurial and often brutal rule, Muammar Gaddafi was toppled
by his own people. Anti-government protests escalated into an eight-month rebellion, backed by NATO bombing, that shattered his regime, and Gaddafi finally was tracked down and killed in the fishing village where he was born.
- Fiscal showdowns in US Congress: Partisan divisions in Congress led to several showdowns on fiscal issues. A fight over the debt ceiling prompted Standard & Poor's to strip the US of its AAA credit rating. Later, the so-called "super committee" failed to agree on a deficit-reduction package of at least $1.2 trillion – potentially triggering automatic spending cuts of that amount starting in 2013.
- Occupy Wall Street protests: It began September 17 with a protest at a New York City park near Wall Street, and within weeks spread to scores of communities across the US and abroad. The movement depicted itself as leaderless and shied away from specific demands, but succeeded in airing its complaint that the richest 1 percent of Americans benefit at the expense of the rest. As winter approached, local police dismantled several of the protest encampments.
- Gabrielle Giffords
Shot: The popular third-term congresswoman from Arizona suffered a severe brain injury when she and 18 other people were shot by a gunman as she met with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket in January. Six people died, and Giffords' painstaking recovery is still in progress.
Among the news events falling just short of the Top 10 were the death of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, Hurricane Irene, the devastating series of tornados across Midwest and Southeastern US, and the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred gays from serving openly in US military.
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