The Heroes

PARIS, France (DPA) - From Lance Armstrong losing his Tour de France titles, to CIA boss General David Petraus losing his job for cheating on his wife, 2012 was a year of fallen heroes, in which even the BBC was called into question.

Europe's royals also dominated headlines, for everything from their state of dress (or undress) to questionable safaris that led to a national address.

Following are some of the year's most sensational stories.

GAME OVER FOR ARMSTRONG

US cyclist Lance Armstrong is stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life after being found guilty of the ''most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen'' by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

The affair, following years of allegations, ended the career of a sporting icon worshipped in the US for bouncing back after testicular cancer. Armstrong continues to deny the allegations.

PETRAEUS SPOOKED

Four-star General David Petraeus, the former US commander in Afghanistan and Iraq, is forced to step down as head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

The ripples spread after it emerges that another acquaintance of Petraeus, Jill Kelley, has exchanged questionable emails with another general, John Allen. Allen's nomination for supreme commander of NATO is put on hold.

DID AUNTIE FAIL TO PROTECT?

The venerable British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) - Auntie Beeb to the British - is brought into disrepute by a child sex abuse scandal involving deceased presenter Jimmy Savile.

The BBC is accused of trying to cover up allegations that Savile abused children. Soon after, a fresh crisis erupts when the broadcaster airs an erroneous story wrongly linking a senior politician with paedophilia. BBC Director General George Entwistle resigns.

CHINESE TRIAD

Chinese police chief Wang Lijun's flight in February to a US consulate sparked a chain of events that led to the ouster of Bo Xilai, a rising, populist regional leader of the ruling Communist Party.

Wang leaves the consulate after a day and goes on to testify against Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Gu is convicted. Bo awaits trial for covering up the murder, corruption, and abuse of power - charges that supporters claim were politically motivated. But rumors still swirl of even darker secrets buried in his colourful, 20-year career.

SYRIAN SHOPPING SPREE

Emails leaked in March showed that Syria's first lady, British-born Asma al-Assad, spent thousands of dollars for designer goods while her husband, Bashar al-Assad, spent time downloading music on his iPad, while the country descended into a civil war, claiming hundreds of lives daily.

Purchases attributed to the first lady included a new chocolate fondue set, Christian Louboutin stilettos, chandeliers, and a DVD copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.

SOUTH AFRICAN SPEAR

South African artist Brett Murray divides the nation with his painting, The Spear, depicting President Jacob Zuma in a Vladimir Lenin-style pose, with his genitalia exposed.

The painting, largely interpreted as a comment on the president's polygamous lifestyle, leads to protests that climax when two people smear the portrait with paint.

The affair sparks a debate about freedom of expression. The ruling African National Congress brings a defamation case against Murray, but later drops it.

ROYAL DRESSING DOWN

In a case of life imitating art, Britain's royals are caught in various states of undress, beginning with Prince Harry, snapped frolicking naked with party girls in a Las Vegas hotel room. British tabloids mostly refrain from publishing the photographs. Only The Sun breaks ranks.

Weeks later French gossip magazine Closer outrages the palace by publishing photographs of the duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless during a private holiday with Prince William in Provence. Several other European titles also publish the blurry paparazzi shots.

The British royals weren't the only ones facing embarrassment in 2012. Spanish King Juan Carlos broke a hip while on a no-expenses-spared safari in Botswana, the news of which irked Spaniards being asked to tighten their belts amid an economy in tailspin. He ended up having to issue a public apology, saying it would never happen again.

VATILEAKS

A former butler to Pope Benedict XVI, Paolo Gabriele, blows the whistle on scheming and suspected corruption at the highest levels of the Catholic Church by leaking the pope's confidential correspondence to the media.

Gabriele was convicted by a Vatican court and sentenced to 18 months in prison for what comes to be known as the VatiLeaks case.

Questions remain over whether others - besides a computer technician convicted of abetting Gabriele - were involved.

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