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Dubai dazzles in global 2014 party – New Year welcomed with joy, fireworks

dubaiDUBAI: With fireworks, dancing and late-night reverie, millions around the world welcomed 2014, gathering for huge displays of jubilation and unity as the New Year arrived across 24 time zones. Dubai attempted to smash the fireworks world record as it ushered in 2014 with a bang, as a wave of pyrotechnics swept around the globe. The Middle East hub was hoping to break the Guinness World Record for the largest-ever display, pledging to set off more than 400,000 fireworks. Kuwait set the record in 2011 with an epic hour-long blast of 77,282 fireworks.

The glittering fireworks display spanned over 100 km of the Dubai coast, which boasts an archipelago of man-made islands and Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower at 830 m high. People crowded in the streets below took pictures on their mobile phones as the salvo lit up the Burj Khalifa. To the strains of Arabic pop music, the five-minute thundering display filled the skies above the United Arab Emirates' main city. The main displays were based at the luxurious Atlantis hotel and at Palm Jumeirah, one of three palm-shaped islands.

Sydney had the first of the world's major pyrotechnic shows, with seven tonnes of explosives lighting up Australia's biggest city. Fireworks shot off the Opera House for the first time in more than 10 years as part of the extravaganza, focused on the Harbour Bridge. "The Opera House was fantastic," said Murphy Robertson, from Denver in the United States, after watching the Aus$6 million ($5.4 million) show which attracted some 1.5 million people to harbour vantage points. "The thing that really got me was the sparks, the golden curtain of sparks going off the bridge."
Kiribati and Samoa in the Pacific were the first to see in the New Year at 1000 GMT Tuesday, in a wave of celebrations that will finish on the United States' remote Howland and Baker Islands at 1200 GMT today. Tonga, located near the international dateline, was one of the first nations to say farewell to 2013, holding a prayer festival that culminated with a bamboo "cannon" fired into the air. In Antarctica, passengers and crew on the Akademik Shokalskiy ship - awaiting rescue after being trapped for a week in ice - rang in the new year with a specially composed song lamenting the "great shame we are still stuck here".

Closer to the edge of the International Dateline, New Zealand bid farewell to 2013 with fireworks erupting from Auckland's Sky Tower as cheering crowds danced in the streets of the South Pacific island nation's largest city. In Hong Kong, the city's skyscrapers were lit up by a dazzling eight-minute pyrotechnics show fired from a one-kilometre line of barges along Victoria Harbour. An estimated 400,000 revellers packed the shoreline to watch the show. Further down, groups of teenagers gathered with sign boards offering "free hugs" to passersby. "We're doing it because it's fun and it makes people happy," said 16-year-old local Wendy Yip.

In Japan, the celebrations were quieter. Small fireworks displays were held across the country. But millions of people turned out to local temples and shrines to greet the new year with contemplation and to pray for peace for relatives. For areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, celebrations were much more muted than usual. In Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the Nov 8 storm, officials planned a midnight fireworks display to try to raise spirits in a region where nearly 8,000 died or are still missing. In the ruined farming village of San Isidro, residents are still grappling with the overpowering stench of death as 1,400 corpses stacked in black body bags lay in a field, more than seven weeks after the tragedy.

Seoul rang in 2014 with a ritual clanging of the city's 15th-century bronze bell 33 times, reflecting the ancient custom for marking a new year. In Singapore, people flocked to the financial district for fireworks while thousands of white spheres were launched on Marina Bay, holding residents' wishes for 2014. Jakarta set up 12 city centre stages for performances to showcase the vast archipelago's kaleidoscope of cultures. But in Indonesia's sharia stronghold of Banda Aceh, Islamic police seized thousands of firecrackers and cardboard trumpets after the city administration banned New Year's Eve celebrations for the first time.

In Mumbai, revellers celebrated a court victory over the local police force, which pushed back closing time in bars and restaurants to 5:00 am instead of 1:30 am. In Rio de Janeiro, authorities were predicting that 2.3 million people - a third of them tourists - would crowd Copacabana Beach for fireworks and pop music as Brazil kick off a year that will see them host football's World Cup. Major spectaculars were to also light Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and central London when parliament's Big Ben bell chimes midnight. In Ukraine, anti-government protesters hoped to set their own record for the most people to sing a national anthem at the same time.

Some 300,000 revellers were expected at the Champs-Elysees in Paris, while about a million people were to gather in New York to mark the stroke of midnight and the traditional New Year's Eve ball-drop over Times Square. Cape Town was to have a free concert with fireworks and a 3D tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died on Dec 5. In the Netherlands however, Dutch police arrested 100 youths who pelted firefighters with bottles and fireworks in a central town notorious for its unruly New Year celebrations. One man was killed by fireworks in the small northern town of Medemblik.

China planned light shows at part of the Great Wall near Beijing and at the Bund waterfront in Shanghai. The city of Wuhan in central Hubei province called off its fireworks show and banned fireworks downtown to avoid worsening its smog. Pope Francis used his year-end prayer service of thanksgiving to urge people to ask themselves: Did they spend 2013 to further their own interests or to help others? In his homily, the pontiff asked people to reflect if they used 2013 to make the places where they live more livable and welcoming. Citing Rome as an example, Francis said the city is full of tourists, but also refugees. - Agencies

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This article was published on 01/01/2014