AP

New Year’s Eve celebrations roll across Asia, but wars cast a shadow on 2024

Dec 31, 2023, 3:13 PM

Fireworks explode at the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, during the New Year's Eve cele...

Fireworks explode at the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, during the New Year's Eve celebration, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

NEW YORK (AP) — Revelers across Asia celebrated the countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve with fireworks and brightly lit signs — offering a hopeful start to 2024 for some, even as the globe’s ongoing conflicts raised security concerns and let to muted or even cancelled festivities.

As the clock struck midnight in Australia, more than 1 million people — a number equivalent to one in five of the city’s residents — watched a 12-minute firework display focused on the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the shore and from boats in the harbor.

“It’s total madness,” said German tourist Janna Thomas, who had waited in line since 7:30 a.m. to secure a prime waterfront location in the Sydney Botanic Garden.

Organizers worldwide have readied for large-scale celebrations despite the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine. In New York City, where there have been near-daily protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war, officials and party organizers said they were prepared to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of revelers who will flood Times Square in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

ASIAN NATIONS ARE FIRST TO WELCOME THE NEW YEAR

Fireworks exploded up and down the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, as clocks struck midnight in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

China celebrated relatively quietly, with most major cities banning fireworks over safety and pollution concerns. Still, people gathered and performers danced in colorful costumes in Beijing, while a crowd released wish balloons in Chongqing. During his New Year address, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country would focus on building momentum for economic recovery in 2024 and pledged China would “surely be reunified” with Taiwan.

In Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, the mood appeared upbeat as revelers gathered for a fireworks show at the bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 skyscraper, as well as at concerts and other events held throughout the city.

In India, thousands of revelers from the financial hub of Mumbai flocked to a bustling promenade to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea. In New Delhi, fireworks raised concerns that the capital — already infamous for its poor air quality — would be blanketed by a toxic haze on the first morning of the new year.

Temple bells rang out across Japan as people gathered at shrines and temples. At the Tsukiji Temple in Tokyo, visitors were given free hot milk and corn soup as they stood in line to strike a big bell, and a pipe-organ concert was held before a majestic altar.

POPE HIGHLIGHTS THE HUMAN COST OF WAR

At the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled 2023 as a year marked by wartime suffering. During his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, he offered prayers for “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people and many others.”

“At the end of the year, we will have the courage to ask ourselves how many human lives have been shattered by armed conflict, how many dead and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty,” the pontiff said.

GAZA AND UKRAINE WARS GRIND ON

In Russia, the country’s military actions in Ukraine have overshadowed end-of-year celebrations, with the usual fireworks and concert on Moscow’s Red Square canceled, as they were last year.

After shelling in the center of the Russian border city of Belgorod Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across Russia also canceled their usual firework displays, including in Vladivostok. Millions throughout Russia were expected to have tuned into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s prerecorded address, where he asserted there was no force that could divide Russians and stop the country’s development.

Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip killed at least 35 people Sunday, hospital officials said, as fighting raged across the tiny enclave a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war will continue for “many more months,” resisting international calls for a cease-fire.

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, the government has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations in solidarity with the Palestinians.

In Iraq, a Christmas tree was decorated with Palestinian flags and symbolic bodies in funeral shrouds, placed beside a liberty monument in central Baghdad. Many Christians in Iraq have cancelled this year’s festivities in solidarity with Gaza, and have chosen to limit their celebrations to prayers and rituals.

“We hope that the new year, 2024 will be a year of goodness, prosperity, and joy,” said Ahmed Ali, a Baghdad resident.

GLOBAL TENSIONS SPUR SECURITY VIGILANCE

New York Mayor Eric Adams said there were “no specific threats” to his city’s annual New Year’s Eve bash. Police said they would expand the security perimeter around the party, creating a “buffer zone” that would allow them to head off potential demonstrations. During last year’s party, a machete-wielding man attacked three police officers a few blocks from Times Square.

Security was also heightened across European cities on Sunday.

German authorities said they had detained three more people in connection with a reported threat of a New Year’s Eve attack by Islamic extremists on the world-famous Cologne Cathedral.

In Berlin, some 4,500 police officers are expected to keep order and avoid riots like a year ago. Police in the German capital issued a ban on the traditional use of fire crackers for several streets across the city. They also banned a pro-Palestinian protest in the Neukoelln neighborhood of the city, which has seen several pro-Palestinian riots.

In Paris, over 1.5 million people are expected to attend celebrations on the Champs-Elysees, with around 90,000 law enforcement officers would be deployed nationwide, top officials said. Celebrations in the French capital will center on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, including DJ sets, fireworks and video projections on the Arc de Triomphe.

In a New Year’s message, French President Emmanuel Macron predicted that the 2024 European Parliament elections will be crucial to Ukraine’s future and the fate of democracy across Europe.

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New Year’s Eve celebrations roll across Asia, but wars cast a shadow on 2024