Bombings cast shadow over New Year parties

Deadly bombings in Baghdad and Indonesia and fear of terrorism in the United States, Britain, Israel and elsewhere cast shadows over New Year celebrations around the world.

Deadly bombings in Baghdad and Indonesia and fear of terrorism in the United States, Britain, Israel and elsewhere cast shadows over New Year celebrations around the world.

From Asia to Europe to North America, the world ushered in 2004 with fireworks displays, massive parties and simple prayers for peace.

In New York, nearly one million revellers jammed Times Square to ring in the new year with the dropping of the traditional New Year’s Eve ball – a confetti-filled party that took place under some of the tightest security ever seen.

Snipers were posted on rooftops and helicopters patrolled overhead.

The US government on December 21 raised its national terrorism alert to its second-highest level, prompting cities across the country to step up police patrols, plan aerial surveillance and install equipment to detect chemical, biological or radiological contamination.

“You can’t let them spoil the party,” said Mike Riley of Huntsville, Alabama, in Times Square. “Everybody in the world watches it on television, and since I was little, I wanted to be in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”

In central Baghdad, a car bomb ripped through a restaurant during a New Year’s Eve party, killing five people and injured 35 others.

In Indonesia’s restive Aceh province, nine people were killed and 46 injured when a bomb blew up during a concert at a crowded market Wednesday night.

Aceh has been battered by 27 years of fighting between separatist guerrillas and government forces. The military blamed the bombing, in the town of Pereulak, on the rebels, who denied the allegation.

Festivities also took a deadly turn in the Philippines’ city of Lucena when fireworks sparked a fire in an old public market and killed 18 people.

Celebrations were happier in Australia, where Sydney’s famous harbour was alight with colourful fireworks, and in New Zealand, where thousands crammed into a public square, dancing and waving glow sticks.

Still, a tactical response team scoured the streets of Sydney on the lookout for everything from drunken revellers to possible security threat.

Pope John Paul gave thanks for 2003 and prayed for peace in 2004 “in Rome, in Italy, in Europe and the entire world” during an end-of-the-year vespers service at St Peter’s Basilica.

Iraqis celebrating in Baghdad sent tracer bullets flashing across the sky.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a former prisoner of war in Iraq, Shoshana Johnson, pressed a small globe, sending the huge crystal ball on top of a building on the southern end of Times Square on a 60-second drop that culminated at the stroke of midnight.

On New Year’s Day, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited a shrine honouring Japan’s war dead, a decision that riled China, which Japan invaded and brutally occupied last century.

Huang Xingyuan, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Crowds of Taiwanese gathered at sunrise today in front of the Presidential Office building for the annual raising of the flag, though this year the ceremony was overshadowed by the upcoming presidential elections.

North Korea issued a New Year’s message reconfirming its willingness to peacefully resolve a standoff over its nuclear weapons program, a state-run news agency reported.

In many parts of the world, fears of terrorism marked celebrations.

New York police sealed manhole covers and removed mailboxes in Times Square. Authorities banned flights other than scheduled commercial airliners over Manhattan and Las Vegas for several hours during celebrations. The Department of Homeland Security sent fighter jets over New York for the night.

In Israel, the threat of terrorism prompted even greater security efforts than usual. Police said reinforcements were patrolling night spots in Tel Aviv, days after Israeli security officials warned of the possibility of a major New Year’s terror attack aimed at a public building or a holy site.

But in central Paris, hearts were lighter on the broad Champs Elysees, where an estimated 450,000 people bundled up against a biting cold strolled up the long tree-lined avenue that shimmered with light.

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