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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 December 2006, 11:54 GMT
The stories that mattered to you
An awful lot happens in the space of a year, with thousands of news stories published for the perusal of BBC News website readers.

Weighty issues accounted for many of the most widely read articles of 2006, but features, science and entertainment also did well. A selection of the biggest hitters is below.

JANUARY

The extraordinary spectacle of the whale that visited London saw the Thames lined with crowds eager to follow its progress. The seven-tonne northern bottle-nose's journey ended sadly, when it died from multiple causes despite rescuers' best efforts.

Whale in Thames
The whale could not be saved
In the US, there was anger and disbelief among the families of 12 trapped miners after they were wrongly told the men were all alive. There was actually only one survivor in the West Virginia mine.

It was also the month that astronomers reported seeing a rare explosion on the Moon.

The actor Chris Penn was found dead, Charles Kennedy resigned as Lib Dem leader after admitting a drinking problem and British diplomats in Moscow were accused of using fake rocks to spy.

FEBRUARY

The publication of caricatures mocking the Prophet Muhammad dominated the news in February. Protests against the cartoons led to deaths. Many readers were keen to know exactly what the pictures depicted.

Isabelle Dinoire
Isabelle Dinoire received the first face transplant

The battle to find survivors following the sinking of an Egyptian ferry in the Red Sea prompted huge interest. It later emerged that more than 1,000 people on board the al-Salam Boccaccio '98 died.

The appearance in public of Isabelle Dinoire, the French woman who received the world's first face transplant, was also among the most widely read stories.

And February saw the debut of a Sudanese goat married off to a farmer caught having sex with it. Readers emailed the tale to friends so often that it was among the most read for months.

MARCH

A detailed look at Chancellor Gordon Brown's plans for the coming year was a top story for readers in March, who flocked to Budget at-a-glance.

Gary Glitter
Glitter strains in court to hear the verdict

There was some good news from Iraq, with the release of British peace activist Norman Kember and two Canadians he had been held hostage with. A fellow captive, American Tom Fox, had been found dead in Baghdad two weeks earlier.

The reputation of estate agents suffered, with the publication of the secret agent. An undercover BBC reporter found some lied to customers, faked signatures and used false passports.

In Vietnam, the former rock star Gary Glitter was jailed for sexually abusing two young girls - a verdict which he described as "unbelievable" and part of a "conspiracy".

APRIL

Eyebrows (and page impressions) were raised when John Prescott admitted he had an affair with one of his secretaries. Mr Prescott said he regretted the relationship with Tracey Temple, while Downing Street said it was a "private matter".

John Prescott badge
Sympathy for John Prescott was not shared by everyone

The business side of football created widespread interest, with a 56m sponsorship deal for Manchester United and Sky's success in signing a new deal to show Premiership games.

Golfer Tiger Woods caused a stir when he said he had played like "a spaz", prompting much debate about whether it can ever be right to use the word.

April also saw victory for Romano Prodi in Italy's general election, the discovery of a swan with bird flu in Scotland and Canadian Kyle MacDonald swapping a paper clip for a house.

MAY

After a poor showing by Labour in the local elections, a major Cabinet reshuffle saw Tony Blair sack Charles Clarke. The home secretary had been under pressure over the deportation of foreign prisoners.

Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills
Sir Paul and Mills met at a charity event in 1999

Aviation fans had a lot to get excited about, with the UK debut of the Airbus A380. The world's biggest passenger jet landed at Heathrow Airport after flying in from Berlin.

May was also the month that Sir Paul McCartney and his wife Heather Mills announced they were to split.

JUNE

An anti-terror raid in east London involving 250 officers led to the shooting of a 23-year-old man. No evidence of involvement in terrorism was found by officers, who had been looking for a chemical device. Police later apologised for the hurt caused to the community.

Zarqawi
Zarqawi was blamed for thousands of deaths

In Iraq, the militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in an air raid. He had been considered the figurehead of the Sunni insurgency and blamed for thousands of deaths.

In the US, the story that internet users were to be enlisted to patrol the US border prompted great interest. Surfers would be able to watch the border between Mexico and Texas and call the authorities if they saw illegal crossings.

Scientists announced that they had found a new type of hammerhead shark in the Atlantic Ocean and that the environment in the womb may make men gay.

JULY

Two Israeli soldiers were captured by Lebanese guerrillas in a cross-border raid, triggering a five-week conflict. Israel launched air strikes and pushed troops into southern Lebanon, while Hezbollah fired rockets across the border. After hundreds of deaths, a ceasefire came into place on 14 August.

With temperatures of 36.5C (97.7F) in Surrey, 19 July provided the month's hottest day on record.

Satellite image showing UK NO2 levels (Image: University of Leicester)
Heat built up across the UK

Interest in the unusually hot weather meant images from space, showing the build-up of heat across the UK were extremely popular with readers.

Britons also marked the first anniversary of the 7 July terror attacks, in which 52 people were killed.

Days later, terror attacks in Mumbai left 186 people dead when packed trains were attacked.

AUGUST

The threat of terror attacks against the UK dominated the news in August, when police said they had foiled a plot to bring down as many as 10 planes.

Natascha Kampusch (television grab)
Natascha Kampusch was held prisoner for eight years

In Austria, the remarkable story of Natascha Kampusch, the girl kidnapped and held in a basement for eight years, made headlines worldwide. The kidnapper died after throwing himself in front of a train.

And the Swedish state broadcaster admitted a "huge blunder" after a porn film was accidentally shown in the background of a news bulletin.

SEPTEMBER

Steve Irwin (file image)
Steve Irwin worked to protect Australian wildlife

Australian naturalist Steve Irwin's death from a stingray barb to the heart was one of the year's most widely read stories. His popularity also saw huge numbers read about a video tape showing his last moments.

The other big story of the month was that Tony Blair said he would step down as prime minister in 2007. His announcement followed pressure including a wave of resignations by junior ministers.

Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond suffered a "significant brain injury" after crashing a jet-powered car at 300mph. He has since made a good recovery.

OCTOBER

When a small aircraft hit a high-rise apartment block in New York there were fears of terrorism. It later emerged the crash was an accident and that the two people killed were the New York Yankees' Cory Lidle and his flying instructor.

Borat at rodeo in Salem, Massachusetts
Borat gave his own rendition of the US national anthem at a rodeo

The anticipation surrounding the Borat film made our feature on how comedian Sacha Baron Cohen hoaxed America another top read.

The reclusive Amish community found itself at the centre of media attention after a gunman shot dead four girls at a school. The killer, 32-year-old truck driver Charles Carl Roberts IV, had ordered all the boys and some adults to leave.

And readers addicted to gadgets were warned that dependence on technology would lead the human species to split into a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass.

NOVEMBER

There was bad news for President George W Bush, when the Democrats secured victory in the US mid-terms. After the Republicans lost both houses of Congress, Mr Bush pledged to work with his rivals.

Alexander Litvinenko
Russia will not extradite suspects in the Litvinenko case

A major scientific study suggested that there were only 50 years left for fishing, if current trends continued. Stocks had collapsed in one-third of sea fisheries, the report said.

November was also the month that saw Saddam Hussein sentenced to death and a modern spy drama following the death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

DECEMBER

The deaths of five prostitutes whose bodies were found near Ipswich dominated the news for much of December. Steven Wright, a 48-year-old Ipswich man has been remanded in custody, accused of their murder.

Bao Xishun
Mr Bao has an arm length of 1.06m

In Kensal Rise, north-west London, a Tornado ripped through streets and caused damage to up to 150 houses. Many residents were forced to spend the night in a respite centre.

Weather also ruined things for thousands of people hoping to get away for Christmas. At Heathrow airport fog led to the cancellation of hundreds of domestic and some international flights. Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff were also disrupted.

There was better news in China where the world's tallest man put his long arms to good use. Mongolian herdsman Bao Xishun, who stands at 2.36m (7ft 8.95in), reached into the stomachs of dolphins at an aquarium in Fushun to remove plastic they had swallowed. Vets had failed.

In the early hours of 30 December, the news emerged from Iraq that Saddam Hussein had been executed by hanging.

Footage of the former dictator's final moments as he went to the gallows was broadcast on Iraqi state TV.




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