Countless revelers switched into party mode Sunday across Europe to ring in 2018 after Sydney and Hong Kong earlier welcomed New Year on the other side of the globe with dazzling firework displays. In London more than 100,000 ticket-holders gazed up at a spectacular pyrotechnics display from the banks of the river Thames, before dancing to Auld Lang Syne. Keeping with tradition, the Big Ben bell in the Houses of Parliament rang in Britain’s new year-the chimes having been turned back on especially for the celebrations as the famous clock tower is undergoing renovation and encased in scaffolding. Other European cities were similarly awash with people despite the winter cold.
In Paris hundreds of thousands of partygoers braved a storm warning and drizzle to line the Champs-Elysees avenue before a dazzling light show and a fireworks display lit up the Arc de Triomphe. Nearly 2,000 security forces were deployed to protect the crowd-out of some 140,000 mobilized nationwide to guard against the jihadist threat which the authorities describe as “still high”. One reveler, who gave his name only as Stephane, insisted that a spate of recent attacks on France were “in the past.”
“Life goes on and they (jihadists) are on the retreat,” he said. In Hong Kong, the city staged a stunning fireworks display over its famous Victoria Harbor and thousands watched as “shooting stars” were fired from the rooftops of skyscrapers during a 10-minute musical spectacular.
Three hours earlier Australia had rung in the New Year with a magnificent show of rainbow-coloured fireworks cascading from Sydney Harbor Bridge, as partygoers marked the nation’s legalization of gay marriage amid tight security. Thousands thronged the harbor side to see the show illuminate the famous skyline as revelers danced to Auld Lang Syne. “Shooting stars” were also fired from the rooftops of skyscrapers in a 10-minute musical fireworks display. In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, hundreds of couples attended a free mass wedding provided free by the authorities. “I am very happy,” Aminah, who only goes by one name, told AFP. “I’m happy because it’s for free and now I have all the legal documents which I have never had before, thank God.”
Three hours earlier Australia rang in the New Year with a spectacular display of rainbow-coloured fireworks cascading from Sydney Harbor Bridge, as partygoers marked the nation’s legalization of gay marriage amid tight security. About 1.5 million people packed the city’s seafront to watch the pyrotechnics light up the sky above the historic bridge and the iconic opera house, the first major celebrations worldwide after New Zealand.
“This is a fabulous way to see out 2017 — the year that four out of five Sydney siders said a resounding ‘Yes’ to marriage equality,” said Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore of the nationwide postal vote in support of change. Thousands turned out earlier in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland for the annual New Year’s Eve street party, marked by a major fireworks display from the Sky Tower.
In Britain, despite the capital being hit by four terror attacks in 2017, Scotland Yard said it had fewer police officers on the streets than during last year’s event. And revelers on the banks of the Thames were in a party mood as they danced to a soundtrack dominated by women to mark the centenary of women being granted the vote. “We will have the right response of officers at the right locations,” said superintendent Nick Aldworth. “There is no specific threat to this event,” he added. Tens of thousands of people had been expected in Edinburgh for its Hogmanay celebrations-one of the world’s biggest street parties.
Around the world
In Berlin, special tents were set up at the Brandenburg Gate to assist female victims of sexual harassment, following mass assaults on women in Cologne two years ago. In Cologne itself, 1,400 police were being mobilized, street lighting improved and more video cameras installed. As the midnight chimes neared in western Europe, Dubai celebrated the New Year Sunday with a spectacular midnight laser show at Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. As the clock ticked to midnight the 828-metre (2,716-foot) tower was lit up with the green, white, black and red colors of the United Arab Emirates, a portrait of UAE founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan and “2018”.
Hundreds of thousands of people watched the display amid tight security, with roads to the city center sealed off. There were first aid stations in the area, but the festivities passed off without incident. In previous years Dubai had organized spectacular fireworks displays to ring in the new year, but this time the authorities opted instead for a massive laser show, aiming to break a Guinness World Record.
Moscow likewise entered the new year with major boulevards and 36 key sites decked out. In Africa, Cameroon President Paul Biya used the occasion to remind his citizens of their “duty” to “maintain republican order” as well as “social peace and national unity” amid unrest in the country’s Anglophone regions.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo vowed “radical change in governance” in 2018 in his end-of-year speech, with around a third of the country living below the poverty line. “I am determined to do everything possible to strengthen our unity, regain our cohesion,” he said. In the Americas the countdown continued. In Brazil’s party capital Rio millions were to gather on Copacabana beach to watch the fireworks, with many wearing white, the traditional color to usher in the new year.
Toughest security in years
Despite the joyous mood among those celebrating, stricter security has been a key focus amid fears that crowds could be targets for vehicle and other terror attacks. In Australia, the stronger police presence included some officers carrying semi-automatic rifles in Sydney and bollards used as barriers against vehicles. Earlier in December one man was killed and more than a dozen hurt when a man ploughed a car into a crowd of pedestrians in Melbourne.
Other cities are also on alert following deadly vehicle assaults over the past two years in Barcelona, Nice and London
Looking ahead to 2018
IS’s defeat in Iraq and Syria was one of the key stories this year, but the jihadists remain a threat and numerous attacks around the world were claimed by them or Al-Qaeda-linked groups. Donald Trump stole the news spotlight after making his debut as US President in January 2017, with his “America first” policies and a bombastic personal style that has shaken up international diplomacy.
Political and diplomatic earthquakes set to rumble into 2018 include the crisis in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, and the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. In Europe, further talks on Brexit will help shape the region’s future trade relationship while Russia is set to host the football World Cup amid frictions with the West.-AFP