A history of handovers (and their hangovers)

Britain's role in relinquishing power in Iraq evokes memories of other withdrawals. Sometimes the process is fairly good-natured, sometimes not
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The Union Flag came down for the last time over Hong Kong on 1 July, 1997, as 500 Chinese troops crossed the border into the New Territories. At midnight, the digits of the countdown clock turned to zero, and Britain departed.

Thge lease of Hong Kong and its adjoining territories from China had ended, but the handover included safeguards for its six million population. Hong Kong's Beijing-approved "mini-constitution" allowed a significant degree of autonomy. The British Government assured the colony the agreement was binding. More than 50,000 British passports were granted to heads of families.

Supporters of the Hong Kong Democratic Party demonstrated on the night of the handover and now accuse the Chinese government of reneging on its promise. The Chinese barred 1.6 million mainland citizens who had residents' rights in Hong Kong from exercising that right. They also staged the "election" of the chief executive, Tung Chee-Hawa.

Seven years after the handover, only 24 members in the 60-seat legislative chamber are popularly elected. Last year, 500,000 protesters in a democracy rally forced Mr Tung to stop plans for an anti-subversion law regarded as infringing civil liberties. He will also hold talks with democracy campaigners.


The British colony of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was heading for independence, under black majority rule, when the whites of Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence in the capital Salisbury on November 11, 1965.

This was followed by a bitter civil war between the minority white government, led by Ian Smith, and black nationalists of ZANU and ZAPU. The Rhodesians received substantial help from the apartheid regime in South Africa, as well as, secretly, a number of Western intelligence services. The guerrillas drew support from the Soviet Union, her allies, and neighbouring African states.

The British government imposed sanctions on Rhodesia. However, Harold Wilson's Labour government was accused of turning a blind eye to sanctions-busting, especially by the big oil companies, and supplies continued from South Africa.

In 1979, the Rhodesian government, exhausted by the conflict, and the resultant haemorrhage of its white population, agreed to talks with the nationalists, which were held in London. The Lancaster House agreement was signed in December 1979.

The three African leaders were Joshua Nkomo, Bishop Abel Muzerawa and Robert Mugabe. Of these, Mr Mugabe was deemed at the time, by the British government, as the one best suited to run the newly independent multi-racial country, Zimbabwe, as well as being friendly to the West.

On becoming leader, one of Mr Mugabe's first acts was to unleash the North Korean-trained 5th Division on Matabeleland. Although there was widespread publicity in the media to atrocities carried out by the troops on the Shona tribes of the area, there were only muted protests from the British government.

However, Mr Mugabe's later decision to expropriate, often violently, the land of white farmers, and a campaign of harassment against opposition leaders, led to British government condemnation of his rule.

Elections held in June 2000 were criticised by international bodies, including the Commonwealth, and the European Union, for interference and intimidation by the government. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth following the poll, charging Mr Mugabe of using state power and institutions to steal the elections from the opposition MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

The Zimbabwean government has proposed electoral reforms for next year's elections, but the opposition remain sceptical that they would ever come into practice.


The State of Israel was established on 14 May 1948 when the last of the British troops withdrew from Palestine, which they had taken from the Ottoman Empire in 1917 and ruled under a League of Nations mandate granted after the First World War. The Palestinian Arabs refer to the day as "al-Naqba" or "the Catastrophe".

The British Balfour Declaration had paved the way for the creation of the first Jewish state for nearly 2,000 years. A United Nations vote sanctioned the partition of the land between Jews and Arabs. The name Israel was a last-minute choice.

The establishment of the Israeli state took place against a backdrop of conflict between Jewish groups involved in struggle against British and Arab forces. Two Jewish groups, the Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern Gang, triggered a mass exodus by hundreds of thousands of Arabs to neighbouring countries with a massacre in the Arab village od Deir Yassin near Jerusalem. The day after the declaration of the state of Israel, five Arab armies from Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq invaded.

Britain has steadily lost its influence over the former mandated territory. In his justification for the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair insisted that military action would pave the way for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict. While maintaining friendly relations with Israel, the British Government has sought to build up links with the Palestinian authorities, and express concern to Washington. However, the Foreign Office privately accepts it has little independent influence.

The United States strongly supported the creation of Israel. Britain shares the US exasperation with Yasser Arafat's rejection of peace terms offered in 2000 and his inability to assert his authority over the multitude of Palestinian security services and militias.


India, the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire, was divided into two countries, introducing Pakistan, and gained independence in August, 1947, after 190 years of colonisation.

That began with the victory of Robert Clive, of the East India company, over the Sultan of Bengal, Shiraz U-Dullah at the Battle of Plessey, and spread through the decaying Mughal empire from Afghanistan in the West to Burma in the East.

Defenders of the Empire view the Raj as a success. Although there was a huge cultural interchange between Britain and India, and British democracy lives on in India, the handover, and partition of Muslim Pakistan, and the predominantly Hindu India, took a terrible human cost.

Thousands were killed in rioting as millions migrated, the most prominent being Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the non-violent swadeshi struggle for independence, assassinated by a Hindu for preaching of religious tolerance and perceived betrayal of Hinduism.

The legacy lives on in three wars between India and Pakistan, and continuing violent strife over Kashmir. Although there is steady improvement, the last confrontation between the two states, both with nuclear arsenals, created international panic.

The terms of independence were set by Lord Mountbatten of Burma working to a tight timeframe ordered from London. Critics of the last Viceroy of the Indian Empire accuse him of moving too fast and failing to ensure security was adequate.

Some Pakistanis said Lord Mountbatten favoured the Indians, led by the secular Harrow- and Oxford-educated Indian leader Jaharlal Nehru, against the Muslim League led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah.


Ireland, conquered, and in parts colonised, by Britain, following a number of expeditions over several centuries, was granted Home Rule in December 1920. The island was split in two, with the predominantly Protestant north choosing to remain as part of the United Kingdom.

Ireland had become part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, but a majority of Irish MPs elected to the Commons in the post-War elections in 1918 refused to take their seats. Instead they set up a rival parliament in Dublin in January 1919, and declared independence.

A fiercely fought war ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which created the Irish Free State, with dominion status and the Queen remaining the titular head. The name was later changed to Eire.

In 1949 the Irish Republic was declared. Irish citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom, however, continue to enjoy rights of citizenship, including the right to serve in the forces and stand for electoral office.

In Northern Ireland Catholics complained of widespread discrimination and disenfranchisement. The violent suppression of civil rights marches in 1968 led to the rebirth of the IRA, with the Provisional wing gaining control over the Marxist, and more moderate Officials, and the formation of another Republican group, INLA. The loyalist paramilitaries also organised themselves.

An urban guerrilla war, between British forces and the Republicans, with the loyalists at times secretly working with the British, ended with the Good Friday agreement in 1998, approved by a referendum in both Eire and Northern Ireland. Following the agreement, a bomb explosion in Omagh resulted in the highest number of casualties in the current round of troubles.


The American War of Independence officially ended with the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. The constitution of the United States of America came into effect in 1788.

In 1812 disputes over A Royal navy blockade during the Napoleonic Wars led to another war between Britain and the new country during which British forces burned down the White House.

The first permanent European settlement in North America had been in St Augustine, Florida, in 1565. English settlers first arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The war started in 1774 with disputes over taxation of the colonists the focal point.

The American Continental Army, under George Washington, suffered initial reverses, but the turning point came with the British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown. Washington was elected the first president of USA in 1789.

There was some pressure in London, mainly from cotton interests, to intervene on the southern side during the American civil war. But there were no further armed conflicts between the two countries. By the time of the First World War it was Britain seeking help from the former colony.