World rings in the New Year

Paris jazzed up the Eiffel Tower with a multicoloured, disco-style light display as the world basked in New Year’s festivities with hopes that 2010 and beyond will bring more peace and prosperity.

Paris jazzed up the Eiffel Tower with a multicoloured, disco-style light display as the world basked in New Year’s festivities with hopes that 2010 and beyond will bring more peace and prosperity.

From fireworks over Sydney’s famous bridge to balloons sent aloft in Tokyo, revellers across the globe at least temporarily shelved worries about the future to bid farewell to The Noughties.

Even as some major stock market indexes rose in 2009, the financial downturn hit hard, sending many industrial economies into recession, tossing millions out of work and out of their homes as foreclosures rose dramatically in some countries.

“The year that is ending has been difficult for everybody. No continent, no country, no sector has been spared,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on national TV in a New Year’s Eve address. “Even if the tests are unfinished, 2010 will be a year of renewal,” he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her people that the start of the new decade won’t herald immediate relief from the global economic ills. South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, was more ebullient, saying the World Cup is set to make 2010 the country’s most important year since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hailed events in 2009 like the inauguration of the United States’ first black president, and international attempts to grapple with climate change and the global financial crisis.

“The great message from 2009 is that because we’ve been all in this together, we’ve all worked together,” Mr Rudd said in a New Year’s message.

Australia got the some of the festivities rolling, as Sydney draped its skies with explosive bursts of crimson, purple and blue to the delight of more than 1 million New Year revellers near the harbour bridge.

Concerns that global warming might raise sea levels and cause other environmental problems were on the minds of some as the year ended.

Venice revellers rang in the New Year with wet feet as high tide on its archipelago peaked just before midnight to flood low-lying parts of the city - including St Mark’s Square.

The last year also offered its reminders of the decade’s fight against terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently, rising militant violence in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, in a statement, suggested that terrorism book-ended the decade, with the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, and foiled plot by a Nigerian man to set off explosives on a US-bound airliner on Christmas Eve.

“In late December we were reminded at this decade’s end, just as we were at its beginning, that there is a terrorist threat which puts our safety and security at risk and which requires us to take on al Qaida and the Taliban at the epicentre of global terrorism,” he said.

The American Embassy in Indonesia warned of a possible terrorist attack on the resort island of Bali on New Year’s Eve, citing information from the island’s governor – though local security officials said they were unaware of a threat.

In a more upbeat theme, the Eiffel Tower was decked out for its 120th anniversary year with hundreds of multicoloured lights along its latticework.

It was seemingly retro in style, but decidedly 21st century as it showered the Iron Lady in a light show billed as more energy-saving than its usual sparkling lights.

Police blocked off the Champs-Elysees to vehicle traffic as partygoers popped champagne, exchanged la bise – the traditional French cheek to cheek peck – or more amorous kisses to celebrate the New Year.

Spain rang in the start of its six-month presidency of the European Union with a sound and light show illuminating Sol square in Madrid and images from the 27 member states projected onto the central post office building.

Europe and the Americas may have partied harder than Asia. Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan use a different calendar; China will mark the new year in February.

Still, in Shanghai, some people paid to ring the bell at the Longhua Temple at midnight and wish for new-year luck.

Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries where New Year’s Eve is not celebrated publicly. Clerics in the ultraconservative country said Muslims can only observe their faith’s feasts of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. For them, any other occasions are considered innovations that Islam rejects.

In the Philippines, hundreds of people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire during the celebrations. Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune – but some carry that belief to extremes.

At Zojoji, one of Tokyo’s oldest and biggest Buddhist temples, thousands of worshippers released clear, helium-filled balloons to mark the new year. Nearby Tokyo Tower twinkled with white lights, while a large “2010” sign glowed from the centre.

Tokyo’s Shibuya area, known as a magnet of youth culture, exploded with emotion at the stroke of midnight. Strangers embraced spontaneously as revellers jumped and sang.

“I really felt the economic downturn last year,” said Keitaro Morizame, a 24-year-old TV producer in Tokyo. “I think the future will be brighter.”

In Istanbul, Turkish authorities deployed some 2,000 police around Taksim Square to prevent pickpockets and the molestation of women that have marred New Year celebrations in the past.

The crystal ball dropped and confetti showered the crowd of hundreds of thousands of revellers in New York’s Times Square who greeted 2010 with cheers.

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