SYDNEY, Dec 31: Millions of people across Asia rang in the new year with parties, champagne and massive fireworks displays, kicking off a global wave of celebrations.
Massive bursts of red and green light filled the warm Sydney air as the clock ticked past midnight in Australia’s largest city, with more than one million revellers lining the harbour to catch a glimpse of the dazzling show.
The giant steel archway of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was again the centrepiece of the display, with a giant neon hourglass illustrating the theme of time passing.
More than 1,700 police patrolled the city -- a magnet for international tourists and party-goers -- but they reported no trouble during the celebrations.
Thousands in Hong Kong ignored unusually chilly temperatures to see the fireworks in Victoria Harbour. Across town, police kept close watch on raucous expats and tourists drinking the night away in the Lan Kwai Fong district.
More sombre celebrations took place in Japan, where thousands tossed coins and said prayers at Shinto sanctuaries across the country. Once the clock struck midnight, warm sake was served to the faithful in Tokyo.
In Karachi, thousands of people hoping to ring in the new year on the shores of the Arabian Sea saw their plans scuppered, amid ongoing security fears in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
In Bangkok, security was beefed up after bomb blasts in the Thai capital killed three people on Dec 31, 2006, but police reassured the more than 10,000 people expected on the streets, saying there were no new threats.
In China, — set to host the 2008 Summer 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,” Hu said.
Predominantly Muslim Malaysia marked the last day of its celebrations of 50 years of independence and the start of the new year with countdown concerts and another blazing fireworks display.
International negotiators working to halt North Korea’s nuclear drive will start 2008 with a setback, as Pyongyang failed to meet a year-end deadline to finish disabling its atomic plants and declare all its nuclear programmes.
In Europe, the British government urged revellers not to drink to excess and newspapers predicted a post-midnight surge in frisky behaviour.
More than 350,000 people were expected to pack the banks of the River Thames in London to watch a mammoth fireworks display, while Edinburgh was to host its traditional giant Hogmanay knees-up.
But in Belgium, officials cancelled the traditional fireworks show in Brussels as the country went on maximum alert over possible terror threats.
Hundreds of thousands of partygoers were also expected in New York’s Times Square to usher in a year that will see a new president elected.
Away from the fun and frolics, the tiny Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta prepared to bid farewell to their national currencies — Cyprus pounds and Maltese liri — ahead of their entry into the eurozone on January 1.—AFP