Bombs, security fears mar revelry as world greets 2008

(NEW YORK) Millions staged midnight parties at iconic landmarks around the world to ring in 2008, but bomb attacks and security fears quickly darkened New Year festivities in places.

In New York, hundreds of thousands of revellers crowded the fabled Times Square, braving cold temperatures and stringent security measures to see Mayor Michael Bloomberg release the New Year’s Eve ball on its 100th lowering, with a dazzling display of new environmentally-friendly lights.

But it was Sydney that got the global party going as more than a million people lined the harbour for fireworks. The giant steel archway of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was again the centrepiece of the traditional display in Australia’s main city, with a giant neon hourglass illustrating the theme of time passing.

An estimated 700,000 people were out on the damp London streets and crammed on riverbanks to watch the 10-minute fireworks display on the Thames, which focused on the giant London Eye observation wheel, police said.

However, bombs planted by suspected separatist rebels at discos and other entertainment centres rocked Thailand’s troubled south as revelry was at its peak. In Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, police stopped thousands from attending a traditional gathering on a beach overlooking the Arabian Sea amid security fears after the assassination of Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Belgian authorities cancelled a traditional fireworks show in Brussels as the country went on maximum alert over possible terror threats. French authorities put 13,000 police on the streets of Paris and its troubled suburbs to deter any repeat of riots last month. But an estimated 400,000 French and foreign visitors still turned the Champs Elysees into a mass of car-honking festivities. Even more people – around one million according to police – packed streets around the Brandenburg Gate in what German media billed as the world’s biggest New Year’s party.

In China – set to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing – President Hu Jintao called for world peace and development in his New Year address. ‘We sincerely hope people of all nations live under the same blue sky freely, equally, harmoniously and happily, and enjoy the achievements in peace and development of the humankind,’ he said. Thousands in Hong Kong ignored unusually low temperatures to see the fireworks in Victoria Harbour. In the northern Chinese city of Harbin, tourists strolled through a display of ice structures and some toasted the New Year in a bar made from ice blocks.

As tens of thousands of people flocked to Moscow’s Red Square, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin used his final New Year address as president to congratulate Russians on a ‘national renaissance’ driven by ‘colossal resources’, in a pre-recorded broadcast.

In Iraq, crowds surged into the streets of strife-torn Baghdad, setting off firecrackers and firing weapons and dancing in a rare moment of freedom from the daily violence that has recently eased.


Source: AFP (Busines Times 2 Jan 08)


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