1978 1979 1980 - 1981 - 1982 1983 1984
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Events of 1981
- January 1 - Greece enters the European Community, which later becomes the European Union.
- January 1 - Palau becomes self-governing.
- January 6 - Brazilian double decker boat Novo Amapo capsized Amazon River, Belem de Cajari, Macapa, Brazil, 230 killed.
- January 17 - Former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos lifted Martial Law.
- January 19 - United States and Iranian officials sign an agreement to release 52 American hostages after 14 months of captivity.
- January 20 - Ronald Reagan succeeds Jimmy Carter, becoming the 40th President of the United States. Minutes later, Iran releases the 52 Americans held for 444 days, ending the Iran hostage crisis.
- January 22 - Fowzi Nejad, sole survivor of the terrorists from the Iranian Embassy siege in London, pleads guilty to manslaughter of two hostages and gets jailed for life.
- January 25 - Four former Labour cabinet ministers (Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, William Rodgers and David Owen) issue the Limehouse Declaration, leading to the formation of the Social Democratic Party.
- January 25 - Chiang Ching ('Madame Mao') is sentenced to death in the People's Republic of China.
- January 27 - Indonesian passenger ship Tamponas 2 catches fire and capsizes in the Java Sea, killing 580.
- February 4 - Gro Harlem Brundtland becomes the Prime Minister of Norway.
- February 9 - Polish Prime Minister Józef Pinkowski resigns and is replaced by General Wojciech Jaruzelski.
- February 10 - A fire at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel-casino kills 8 and injures 198.
- February 13 - Rupert Murdoch buys The Times and The Sunday Times for £12 million.
- February 14 - Stardust fire: a fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin, Ireland in the early hours killed 48 and injured 214
- February 14 - Australia withdraws recognition of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.
- February 23 - Antonio Tejero, with members of the Guardia Civil, enters the Spanish Congress of Deputies and stops the session where Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo is about to be named president of the government. The coup d'état fails thanks to King Juan Carlos.
- February 24 - A powerful, magnitude 6.7 earthquake hits Athens, killing 16 people, injuring thousands and destroying several buildings, mostly in Corinth and the nearby towns of Loutraki, Kiato and Xylokastro.
- March 1 - Bobby Sands, a Provisional Irish Republican Army member, begins a hunger strike for political status in Long Kesh prison (he dies May 5, the first of 10 men).
- March 6 - After 19 years hosting the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite signs off for the last time.
- March 11 - Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet is sworn in as President of Chile for another 8-year term.
- March 17 - In Italy the Propagande Due Masonic Lodge is discovered.
- March 19 - Three workers are killed and 5 injured during a test of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
- March 26 - The British Social Democratic Party was launched at the Connaught Rooms in London.
- March 30 - U.S. President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C. hotel by John Hinckley, Jr.. Two police officers and Press Secretary James Brady are also wounded.
- April 1 - Daylight saving time is introduced in the USSR.
- April 10 - IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands wins the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election.
- April 11 - Brixton riot (1981): Rioters in South London throw petrol bombs, attack police and loot shops.
- April 12 - The Space Shuttle program: Space Shuttle Columbia (John Young, Robert Crippen) launches on the STS-1 mission, returning to Earth on April 14.
- April 24 - French presidential election: A first-round runoff results between Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and François Mitterrand.
- May 6 - A jury of architects and sculptors unanimously selects Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from 1,421 other entries.
- May 7 - The Greater London Council election results in a small Labour majority. On May 8, Ken Livingstone becomes Leader of the Council.
- May 10 - In the second round of the presidential elections in France, François Mitterrand beats Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.
- May 10 - In Italy a popular referendum rejects the abrogation of the law allowing abortion.
- May 13 - Pope John Paul II is shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish gunman, as he enters St. Peter's Square in Rome to address a general audience (2 days after Christmas in 1983, Pope John Paul goes to the prison to meet and forgive his would-be assassin).
- May 21 - In France, Socialist François Mitterrand becomes President.
- May 25 - In Riyadh, the Gulf Cooperation Council is created between Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- May 26 - The Italian government resigns over its links to the fascist Masonic cell Propaganda Due.
- May 30 - Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman is assassinated in Chittagong.
- June 5 - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 5 homosexual men in Los Angeles, California have a rare form of pneumonia seen only in patients with weakened immune systems (the first recognized cases of AIDS).
- June 6 - Bihar train disaster: Seven coaches of an overcrowded passenger train fall off the tracks into the River Kosi in Bihar, India; about 800 die.
- June 7 - The Israeli Air Force destroys Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.
- June 13 - At the Trooping the Colour ceremony in London, Marcus Sarjeant fires six blank shots at Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
- June 21 - Wayne Williams, a 23-year-old Black, is arrested and charged with the murders of 2 other Blacks. He will later be suspected of 28 others, in the Atlanta child murders.
- June 22 - Iranian president Abolhassan Banisadr is deposed.
- July 10 - Mahathir bin Mohamad became the 4th prime minister of Malaysia.
- July 17 - Hyatt Regency walkway collapse: Two skywalks filled with people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri collapse into a crowded atrium lobby, killing 114.
- July 17 - Israeli aircraft bomb Beirut, destroying multi-storey apartment blocks killing approximately 300 civilians and resulting in worldwide condemnation and a U.S. embargo on the export of aircraft to Israel.
- July 29 - Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales.
- August 7 - The Washington Star ceases all operations after 128 years of publication.
- August 19 - Gulf of Sidra incident (1981): Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi sends 2 Sukhoi Su-22 fighter jets to intercept 2 U.S. fighters over the Gulf of Sidra. The American jets destroy the Libyan fighters.
- August 19 - U.S. President Ronald Reagan appoints the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor.
- August 24 - Mark David Chapman is sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment after being convicted of murdering John Lennon in Manhattan eight months ago.
- August 28 - South African troops invade Angola.
- August 31 - A bomb explodes at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein, West Germany, injuring 20 people.
- September 4 - An explosion at a mine in Záluží, Czechoslovakia, kills 65 people.
- September 18 - France abolishes capital punishment.
- September 20 - Belize becomes independent.
- September 20 - Brazilian river boat Sobral Santos capsized Amazon River, Óbidos, Brazil, killing at least 300.
- September 27 - TGV high speed rail service between Paris and Lyon, France begins.
- October 6 - Egyptian president Anwar Sadat is assassinated during a parade by army members who were part of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization; they opposed his negotiations with Israel.
- October 10 - A Provisional IRA bomb at Chelsea Barracks in London kills a woman pensioner.
- October 14 - Vice President Hosni Mubarak is elected President of Egypt one week after Anwar Sadat's assassination.
- October 16 - Gas explosions occurred coal mine at Hokutan Yūbari, Hokkaidō, Japan, killing 93.
- October 21 - Andreas Papandreou becomes Prime Minister of Greece.
- October 27 - A Soviet submarine runs aground oustide the Karlskrona, Sweden military base.
- November 1 - Antigua and Barbuda gain independence from the United Kingdom.
- November 12 - STS-2: Space Shuttle Columbia, piloted by Joe Engle and Richard Truly, lifts off for its second mission.
- November 23 - Iran-Contra scandal: Ronald Reagan signs the top secret National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), giving the Central Intelligence Agency the authority to recruit and support Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
- November 25-November 26 - A group of mercenaries led by Mike Hoare take over Mahe airport in the Seychelles in a coup attempt. Most of the mercenaries escape by a commandeered Air India passenger jet; 6 are later arrested.
- November 30 - Cold War: In Geneva, representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union begin to negotiate intermediate-range nuclear weapon reductions in Europe (the meetings end inconclusively on Thursday, December 17).
- December 1 - A Yugoslavian DC-9 crashes into a mountain while approaching Ajaccio Airport in Corsica, killing 178.
- December 4 - South Africa grants "homeland" Ciskei independence (not recognized outside South Africa).
- December 5 - American general James Lee Dozier is kidnapped in Verona by Italian Red Brigades.
- December 9 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania police officer Daniel Faulkner is shot and killed during a routine traffic stop of a vehicle driven by William Cook, Mumia Abu-Jamal's younger brother.
- December 11 - El Mozote massacre: In El Salvador, army units kill 900 civilians.
- December 13 - Wojciech Jaruzelski declares martial law in Poland, to prevent the dismantling of the communist system by Solidarity.
- December 15 - A car bomb destroys the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 61 people. Syrian intelligence is blamed. Mossad?
- December 28 - The first American test-tube baby, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, is born in Norfolk, Virginia.
- December 31 - Coup d'état in Ghana removes President Hilla Limann's PNP government and replaces it with the PNDC led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings.
- August 26 - Roger Baldwin, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (b. 1884)
- October 6 - Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (b. 1918)
- (1981) "The Bombing of Beirut". Journal of Palestine Studies 11 (1).