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UAE National Day: 26 most important milestones in the country’s 50-year history

As the United Arab Emirates celebrates its 50th National Day, we look back at some of the federation’s most historic moments that paved the way for its transformation from relative obscurity to a household name known for its ambition and record-breaking prowess.

December 2, 1971: The United Arab Emirates is formed

On the very first National Day, founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan united six tribal families to form the UAE.

An agreement between the six ruling families was signed in what is now known as Dubai’s Union House.

Discussions about forming a union had been ongoing for several years prior to the official founding of the nation.

When a treaty with the British ended on December 1 1971, the fledging federation was ready to hoist its flag for the first time.

The United Arab Emirates was welcomed into the Arab League on the day it was founded.

December 9, 1971: The UN recognizes the UAE

Days after its founding, the UAE became a member state of the United Nations.

February 10, 1972: Ras al-Khaimah joins the union

Some two months after the official founding of the UAE, the ruling family of the northernmost emirate Ras al-Khaimah decided to

October 5, 1972: Mina Rashid opens

Dubai’s then-ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum inaugurated Mina Rashid almost a year after the unification.

The opening of the port was an early step in building Dubai’s status as an international trading hub.

It was a significant improvement over the creek – providing deep water berths for cargo ships.

Sheikh Rashid enlisted the services of British engineering firm Halcrow to design and build the port.

May 6, 1976: Seven emirates unify their armed forces

Although a Union Defense Force had been set up soon after founding in December 1971, introducing federal authority over the armed forces, each emirate was responsible for training their own soldiers up until 1976.

In May of 1976, the separate forces were unified and officially renamed the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces.

February 26, 1979: Jebel Ali’s port opens

Seven years after Mina Rashid was inaugurated, Sheikh Rashid inaugurated the Port of Jebel Ali, which to this day remains the world’s largest manmade harbor and one of the busiest ports globally.

The inauguration of Jebel Ali, 35 kilometers from Dubai’s city center, solidified the young emirate’s position as a vital trading hub between the Eastern and Western worlds.

February 26, 1979: Dubai World Trade Center inaugurated

On the same day as the ambitious port project was officially opened, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth inaugurated the newly-built Dubai World Trade Center.

One of the first skyscrapers in the city, the World Trade Center symbolized Dubai’s ambition to become a powerful player in global business.

May 5 1981: UAE co-founds Gulf Cooperation Council in Abu Dhabi

The heads of state of Gulf neighbors Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman signed a charter to form the GCC in 1981.

The economic agreement recognized the shared culture of the Gulf states and included, at one point, plans for a common currency.

January 2, 1982: Abu Dhabi International Airport opens

Linking the capital to the rest of the world, Abu Dhabi’s airport opened in the early 80s.

Dubai had opened its own airport in 1960, before the formation of the union.

Sharjah, meanwhile, had operated an airport since the 1930s, and opened its current international airport in 1976.

October 25, 1985: First Emirates flight takes off

Although it is now known as one of the world’s biggest airlines, Emirates’ humble beginnings were an inaugural flight to Karachi on plane rented from Pakistan International Airlines.

October 7, 1990: Dubai mourns ruler’s death

The emirate went into mourning after its leader and the UAE’s Prime Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum passed away.

Sheikh Rashid led the emirate through its founding and was responsible for a number of major projects, setting Dubai on the path to becoming the metropolis it is today.

He was succeeded by his son Sheikh Maktoum, who served until his death in 2006.

December 1, 1999: Burj al-Arab opens

The world’s first seven-star hotel and an enduring icon of Dubai’s luxury tourist attractions, the Burj al-Arab, opens.

June 2001: Construction begins on Palm Jumeirah

An ambitious building project to create an artificial island off Dubai’s coast begins.

The first residential units on the Palm Jumeriah were handed over in 2006.

March 3, 2003: Al Arabiya begins broadcasting from Dubai

Al Arabiya begins broadcasting its news channel from Dubai’s newly-developed Media City.

May 11, 2003: First Etihad flight takes off

Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier Etihad launched its first ever flight with a ceremonial trip from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Al Ain.

November 2, 2004: Founding father Sheikh Zayed dies

The nation fell into mourning on November 2 2004 when its founding father Sheikh Zayed passed away.

Sheikh Zayed was a beloved figure among UAE residents, respected globally for his efforts to unite the seven emirates and celebrated locally for his reputed generosity and deep involvement in ruling over his people.

His son, the current President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa succeeded him.

August 28, 2005: Mall of the Emirates and Ski Dubai open

Symbolic of the flurry of development that took place in the 2000s, the Mall of the Emirates with its Ski Dubai indoor ski slope opened in August of 2005.

At the time is was hailed as the largest mall in the world, while Ski Dubai

16 to 20 December, 2006: The UAE’s first election

For the first time, UAE citizens were allowed to choose members of their governments for the first time.

Elections were held to decide the posts of half of the 40 seats of the Federal National Council (FNC).

November 4, 2008: Dubai Mall opens

Surpassing the previous record for the world’s largest mall, Dubai’s Emaar opened Dubai Mall in November of 2008.

August 9, 2009: Dubai Metro inaugurated

Another historic achievement for the UAE was cemented when Dubai inaugurated its metro system in 2009, which was at the time the Arabian Gulf’s first urban rail system.

January 4 2010: Dubai opens the world’s tallest building

The ultimate symbol of the 2000s building boom, Dubai made headlines around the world again with its Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building.

The tower is an architectural marvel, standing at 829.8 meters tall, and remains the tallest manmade structure in the world to this day.

November 27, 2013: Dubai wins Expo 2020 bid

Dubai won its bid to host the World Expo 2020, which would be the first ever held in the Middle East.

July, 2014: UAE announces Mars mission

Not content with breaking records on earth, the UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa announced that Emirati scientists would develop a craft that would travel to Mars.

July 20, 2020: Mars mission launches

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Emirates Mars Mission brought hope to the UAE when it launched the aptly-named Hope probe on July 20, 2020.

It set off from a launch site in Japan and entered the red planet’s orbit in February of 2021, where it remains, collecting data about the atmosphere.

September 15, 2020: Abraham Accords signed

A historic deal between the UAE, Bahrain, the US, and Israel was signed in September of 2020.

It was the first time an Arab country had recognized Israel since Jordan had in 1994.

November 11, 2020: Sweeping legal reform

A raft of sweeping legal reforms was announced in November of 2020, amending rules across a broad range of areas.

Some traditional restrictions on societal norms were eased, paving the way for a more modern state.

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France concerned over Armenia ‘territorial integrity’: Macron

France is keeping a close eye on the territorial integrity of Armenia after Azerbaijan’s offensive to take full control of the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, accusing Baku of “threatening” Armenian borders.

“France is right now very vigilant concerning the territorial integrity of Armenia. Because that’s what’s at stake,” Macron said in a televised interview, adding that Russia was now “complicit” with Baku and Azerbaijan is now “threatening the border of Armenia.”


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France to end military presence, withdraw ambassador from Niger after coup: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that France will end its military presence in Niger and pull its ambassador out of the country after its democratically elected president was deposed in a coup.

France has maintained some 1,500 troops in Niger since the July coup and refused a request by the new junta for its ambassador to leave. With tensions mounting, Macron said that he told the ousted President Bazoum on Sunday that “France has decided to bring back its ambassador, and in the coming hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France. And we will put an end to our military cooperation with the Niger authorities.”

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He noted that France’s military presence in Niger was in response to a request from Niger’s government at the time.

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Deadly armed standoff at Kosovo monastery comes to an ends

At least 30 gunmen killed a Kosovar Albanian police officer then stormed an Orthodox monastery in Kosovo near its border with Serbia, setting off ongoing gunbattles that have left three assailants dead and raised tensions between the two former wartime foes as they seek to normalize ties.

Police have surrounded Banjska, a village located 55 kilometers (35 miles) north of the Kosovo's capital where the monastery is located, and the gunfire is continuing, according to Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who said the attack had support from neighboring Serbia.

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The Kosovo Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church said a temple of the monastery in Banjska was locked down after the gunmen stormed it. A group of pilgrims from Serbia was inside the temple along with an abbot.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was expected to speak later Sunday to “expose Kurti’s lies,” according to pro-government media, apparently referring to Kurti's statement that Serbia backed the attack. It was unclear if the gunmen were Serbs.

Serbia and its former province, Kosovo, have been at odds for decades.

Their 1998-99 war left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 but Belgrade has refused to recognize the move.

Earlier this month, an EU-facilitated meeting in Brussels between Kurti and Vucic to normalize ties ended in acrimony. The United States has supported the negotiations and the EU’s position in trying to resolve the ongoing source of tension in the Balkans.

On Sunday, the Kosovo diocese said a group of masked men in an armored vehicle stormed the monastery, breaking down the locked gate and shooting guns.

“Armed, masked men move around the courtyard and occasional gunshots are heard,” it said.

Earlier on Sunday Prime Minister Kurti said “masked professionals armed with heavy weapons” launched the attack opened fire on a police patrol at about 3 a.m. (01:00 GMT) in Banjska near the monastery.

Three of the assailants were killed and one was arrested. Four ethnic Serbs were arrested in a nearby village with communication equipment. Other weapons and ammunition was found at a location apparently used by the assailants, according to Kosovar police.

One police officer has been killed and two others injured, the last during the armed confrontation, apparently near the monastery at the village, authorities said.

At a news conference Kurti displayed a set of photos which showed a number of four-wheel drive vehicles without license plates and an armored personnel carrier “which does not belong to the Kosovo police” near the monastery.

He described the armed assailants as "an organized professional unit who have come to fight in Kosovo,” calling on them to hand themselves over to Kosovar authorities.

Police said the situation remained tense while “gunfire attacks against police units continue with the same intensity from the moving criminal groupings.”

Kosovo police said the attack began when three police units were dispatched to a bridge at the entrance to the village that had been blocked by trucks. The police officers came under fire from weapons that included hand grenades and bombs and one was killed. The armed men then stormed the monastery.

Kurti called it a “sad day” for Kosovo, identifying the dead police officer as Afrim Bunjaku.

Local roads and two borders crossings into Serbia were closed. Most of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority lives in four municipalities around Mitrovica, in the north.

“It was a real little war: first some gunfire, then silence, shootings, detonations,” Serbian news agency Kossev quoted an unidentified resident as saying.

Kurti wrote on his Facebook page that “Organized crime, which is politically, financially and logistically supported from Belgrade, is attacking our state.”

The speaker of Serbia’s parliament, Vladimir Orlic, responded that Kurti “was quick to blame the Serbs" but actually was the one who wanted an “escalation.”

“He (Kurti) said it was some kind of organized action by professionals,” Orlic told Serbian TV station Prva. “They must have been identified and he knows who they are and what they are, and everything is clear.”

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, condemned “the hideous attack by an armed gang against Kosovo police officers” and said “all facts about the attack need to be established. The responsible perpetrators must face justice.”

He added that the EU's rule of law mission, or EULEX, had representatives on the ground and in close contact with authorities and the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

Borrell talked on phone both with Kurti and Vucic reiterating “his call for the assailants to surrender immediately and the release of the pilgrims at Banjska Monastery, for them to leave safely.”

International police officers from the EU mission and a limited number of Kosovo police have been responsible for enforcing the rule of law in northern Kosovo. Serbia has vehemently protested the presence of the Kosovo Police.

In February, the EU put forward a 10-point plan to end the latest round of heightened tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. Kurti and Vucic gave their approval at the time, but with some reservations that have still not been resolved.

The EU warned both countries that the commitments the leaders made in February “are binding on them and play a role in the European path of the parties” – in other words, Serbia and Kosovo's chances of joining the 27-nation bloc.

The Kosovo-Serbia border is guarded by peacekeepers from the 4,000-strong NATO-led KFOR force, which has been in Kosovo since 1999. In May, tensions in northern Kosovo left 93 peacekeepers hurt in riots.

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