World starts welcoming New Year

World starts welcoming New Year

Under explosive bursts of fireworks more than a million New Year revellers in Sydney got one of the world’s biggest parties started today – bidding farewell to the tough year that was 2009.

As the family-friendly, pre-midnight show illuminated Australia’s largest city, preparations were under way across the world for pyrotechnics, parties and prayers in the final countdown to herald the end of the period dubbed “the Noughties.”

The mood of celebrations was tempered in some places by the effects of the financial downturn, which bit hard in 2009, sending economies into recession, causing millions to lose their jobs and home foreclosures to rise dramatically in some countries.

There were also reminders of threats and the fight against terrorism that during the decade led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rising militant violence in Pakistan.

The US Embassy in Indonesia warned of a possible terrorist attack on Bali on New Year’s Eve.

In Sydney, crowds – organisers expected more than 1.5 million people – thronged to harbourside parks and public places for the annual fireworks extravaganza over the landmark harbour bridge and opera house. The twin shows, one at 9pm local time and a bigger one at midnight, are the centrepiece of Australia’s celebrations that generates some of the most striking images from a night of revelry across the globe.

The mood was jubilant, though the economic crisis may mean 2009 was a year one that many people are glad to put behind them.

“I think 2010 will be a good year – you can never tell, but I think so,” said Marek Kiera, a Sydney property investor who watched interest rates tumble amid the global financial crisis.

“We have invested so much in something that may go up in value,” said Kiera, who went with his wife and three young children to a park in inner Sydney to watch the fireworks show. “Hopefully there will be a boom like in the late ’80s, when properties doubled in value.”

Smaller fireworks displays and partying were planned across Australia and the South Pacific, the first region to greet each new day because of its proximity to the International Date Line.

In New Zealand, dance parties, bands and fireworks were planned in the main cities. In the capital, Wellington, celebrations included a display by world unicycle games competitors.

Asia was be partying, too, though probably not as hard as most of Europe and the Americas. The world’s most populous nation, 1.3-billion-strong China, uses a different calendar that will mark the new year in February. Islamic nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan also use a different calendar.

In the Philippines, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said hundreds of people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire during New Year’s celebrations.

Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge firecrackers and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest.

In Beijing, President Hu Jintao wished viewers a happy new year in his end-of-the-year speech broadcast on China Central Television. In Shanghai, some paid £50 (€56m) to ring the bell at the Longhua Temple at midnight and wish for luck in the new year.

Firework displays were planned to illuminate Hong Kong’s crowded skyline, high-glitz parties were planned in Singapore and thousands gathered at Indonesia’s national monument in the capital, Jakarta, for a fireworks show.

Millions of Japanese were to welcome the new year by flocking to shrines to pray for good fortune in 2010.

In Turkey, Istanbul governor Muammer Guler said authorities were deploying around 2,000 police officers around Taksim Square to prevent pickpockets and the molestation of women that have marred New Year celebrations in the past. Some officers would be under cover, disguised as street vendors or “even in Santa Claus dress,” Guler said.

Firecrackers were already exploding across the Netherlands early today on the only day of the year the Dutch are allowed to set them off. Most such shows are do-it-yourself affairs where families spill onto the street in front of their homes and light strings of fire crackers and other fireworks.

Many Dutch families also fire up their deep-fat frying pans on New Year’s Eve to cook the traditional treat of oliebollen – deep-fried balls of dough laced with raisins and dusted with icing sugar.

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