January – The cargo ship Khian Sea deposits 4,000 tons of toxic waste in Haiti after wandering around the Atlantic for sixteen months.
January 2 – The Soviet Union begins its program of economic restructuring (perestroika) with legislation initiated by Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (though Gorbachev had begun minor restructuring in 1985).
January 7–8 – In the Afghan War, 39 men of the Soviet Airborne Troops from the 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment fight off an attack by 200 to 250 Mujahideen in the Battle for Hill 3234, later dramatized in the Russian film The 9th Company
January 13 – President of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo passed away; Vice-President Lee Teng-hui became president.
January 15 – In Jerusalem, Israeli police and Palestinian protestors clash at the Dome of the Rock; several police and at least 70 Palestinians are injured.
January 17 – Australian soap opera Home and Away premieres with a pilot episode.
January 26 – The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running Broadway play ever, opens.
February 3 – The Democratic-controlled United States House of Representatives rejects President Ronald Reagan’s request for $36.25 million to support the Nicaraguan Contras.
February 12 – The 1988 Black Sea bumping incident: Soviet frigate Bezzavetnyy intentionally rams USS Yorktown in Soviet territorial waters while Yorktown claims innocent passage.
February 13–28 – The 1988 Winter Olympics are held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
1988 Oshakati bomb blast: A bomb explodes outside the First National Bank in Oshakati, Namibia, killing 27 and injuring 70.
U.S. Lieutenant Colonel William R. Higgins, serving with a United Nations group monitoring a truce in southern Lebanon, is kidnapped (and later killed by his captors).
February 20 – The Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast votes to secede from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic and join the Armenian SSR, triggering the Nagorno-Karabakh War.
February 25 – The constitution of the Sixth Republic of Korea comes into effect.
February 27–29 – Collapse of the Soviet Union: The Sumgait pogrom of Armenians occurs in Sumqayit.
February 29 – A Nazi document implicates Kurt Waldheim in World War II deportations.
March 6 – Operation Flavius: A Special Air Service team of the British Army shoots dead 3 unarmed members of a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) Active service unit in Gibraltar.
Opening to rail traffic of the Seikan Tunnel beneath the Tsugaru Strait connecting the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido (53.85 km (33.49 mi)), the world’s longest (until 2016) and deepest.
Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf in Washington, D.C., elects Dr. I. King Jordan as the first deaf president in its history. This conclusion of the Deaf President Now campaign is a turning point in the deaf civil rights movement.
The Halabja chemical attack is carried out by Iraqi government forces.
Iran–Contra affair: Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and Vice Admiral John Poindexter are indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Milltown Cemetery attack: Three men are killed and 70 wounded in a gun and grenade attack by loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone on mourners at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the funerals of the 3 IRA members killed in Gibraltar.
First Republic Bank of Texas fails and enters FDIC receivership, the largest FDIC assisted bank failure in history.
A Colombian Boeing 727 jetliner, Avianca Flight 410, crashes into the side of the mountains near the Venezuelan border, killing 143.
Eritrean War of Independence – Battle of Afabet: The Nadew Command, an Ethiopian army corps in Eritrea, is attacked on 3 sides by military units of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF).
March 19 – Corporals killings in Belfast: Two British Army corporals are abducted, beaten and shot dead by Irish republicans after driving into the funeral cortege of IRA members killed in the Milltown Cemetery attack.
March 20 – Eritrean War of Independence: Having defeated the Nadew Command, the EPLF enters the town of Afabet, victoriously concluding the Battle of Afabet.
An Israeli court sentences Mordechai Vanunu to 18 years in prison for disclosing Israel’s nuclear program to The Sunday Times.
The first McDonald’s restaurant in a country run by a Communist party opens in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In 1989 it will be followed by one in Budapest, and in 1990 in Moscow and Shenzhen, China.
March 25 – The Candle demonstration in Bratislava, Slovakia is the first mass demonstration of the 1980s against the socialist government in Czechoslovakia.
March 29 – African National Congress representative Dulcie September is assassinated in Paris.
The Iranian frigate, IS Alvand, attacked by US Navy forces during Operation Praying Mantis
April 5 – Kuwait Airways Flight 422 is hijacked while en route from Bangkok, Thailand to Kuwait. The hijackers demand the release of 17 Shiite Muslim prisoners held by Kuwait. Kuwait refuses to release the prisoners, leading to a 16-day siege across 3 continents. Two passengers are killed before the siege ends.
The Ojhri Camp Disaster occurs in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The Great Seto Bridge opens to traffic in Japan.
In the Geneva Accords, the Soviet Union commits itself to withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan.
The USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) strikes a naval mine in the Persian Gulf, while deployed on Operation Earnest Will, during the Tanker War phase of the Iran–Iraq War.
Israeli commandos kill the PLO’s Abu Jihad in Tunisia.
In Forlì, Italy, the Red Brigades kill Senator Roberto Ruffilli, an advisor of Prime Minister Ciriaco De Mita.
April 18 – The United States Navy retaliates for the USS Samuel B. Roberts mining with Operation Praying Mantis, in a day of strikes against Iranian oil platforms and naval vessels.
April 20 – The world’s longest skyjacking comes to an end when the remaining passengers of Kuwait Airways Flight 422 are released by their captors.
April 22 – The Ouvéa cave hostage taking begins in Ouvéa, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia.
April 25 – In Israel, Ivan Demjanjuk is sentenced to death for war crimes committed in World War II. He is accused by survivors of being the notorious guard at the Treblinka extermination camp known as “Ivan the Terrible”. The conviction is later overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.
April 30 – World Expo 88 opens in Brisbane Queensland, Australia.
May 4 – PEPCON disaster in Henderson, Nevada: A major explosion at an industrial solid-fuel rocket plant causes damage extending up to 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) away, including Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
May 5 – The Ouvéa cave hostage taking ends in Ouvéa, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia.
May 8 – Re-election of François Mitterrand, for 7 years, in France.
May 15 – Soviet–Afghan War: After more than 8 years of fighting, the Soviet Army begins withdrawing from Afghanistan.
May 16–18 – 1988 Gilgit massacre: In 1988 a revolt by the Shias of Gilgit (in northern Pakistan) was ruthlessly suppressed by the Zia-ul Haq regime.
May 26 – The Edmonton Oilers defeat the Boston Bruins in a four-game sweep to win their fourth Stanley Cup.
May 31 – U.S. President Ronald Reagan addresses 600 Moscow State University students, during his visit to the Soviet Union.
June 10–14 – Spontaneous 100,000 strong mass night-singing demonstrations in Estonian SSR eventually give name to the Singing Revolution.
June 10–25 – West Germany hosts the UEFA Euro 1988 football tournament, which is won by the Netherlands.
June 11 – Wembley Stadium hosts a concert featuring stars from the fields of music, comedy and film, in celebration of the 70th birthday of imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela.
June 14 – A small wildfire starts in Montana just north of the boundary for Yellowstone National Park. The Storm Creek fire expands into the park, then merges with dozens of other drought-inspired fires. Eventually, over 750,000 acres (3,000 km2) of Yellowstone – 36% of the park’s area – burns before firefighters gain control in late September.
June 22 – The Critically Acclaimed Film Who Framed Roger Rabbit is released winning 3 Competitive Academy Award and One Special Achievement Academy Award
June 23 – NASA scientist James Hansen testifies to the U.S. Senate that man-made global warming has begun.
June 27 – The Gare de Lyon rail accident occurs in Paris, France as a commuter train headed inbound to the terminal crashes into a stationary outbound train, killing 56 and injuring 57.
June 30 – Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrates four bishops at Écône, Switzerland for his apostolate, along with Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, without a papal mandate.