World holds parties to welcome New Year
NEW YORK—Extravagant firework displays lit up the skies from Sydney to New York in a global new year’s party that saw millions set aside their world of worries to welcome 2012.
Turning the page on a year of financial turmoil in Europe and the United States, uprisings across the Arab world, devastation in Japan and the Philippines, and the dramatic killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout, revelers danced to pop stars, drank champagne, and cheered out the final seconds of 2011.
In the Philippines, where recent devastating floods drowned more than 1,000 villagers, the health department reported almost 500 people were hurt by firecrackers while 18 others were wounded by stray bullets. Many of the injured were children and drunken adults who ignored government warnings.
At a “New Year Countdown” at Manila’s Rizal Park, crowds estimated at close to two million massed in an all-night party to usher in the new year. They included families seated on mats or on the ground to watch a 15-minute long fireworks display and live bands, such as Imago, Sandwich and Paramita.
Despite the mammoth crowd, security personnel maintained “zero casualty, zero crime” during the event, park official Kenneth Montegrande said.
In New York, pop diva Lady Gaga and Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit the switch sending the city’s famous crystal ball on its countdown drop. Confetti poured out over Times Square, where up to a million people had been expected, and multicolored, star-burst fireworks erupted over Manhattan’s skyscrapers.
Revelers in Australia, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, which jumped across the international dateline to be first to celebrate, welcomed 2012 with booming pyrotechnic displays. Fireworks soared and sparked over Moscow’s Red Square, crowds on Paris’ Champs-Élysées boulevard popped champagne corks at midnight.
The world hoped for a better future, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget. Europe spared no expense on the pyrotechnics. The mood was more somber in Tokyo.
‘2012 has to be better’
Many approached the new year with more relief than joy, as people battered by weather disasters, joblessness and economic uncertainty hoped the stroke of midnight would change their fortunes.
“It was a pretty tough year, but God was looking after us and I know 2012 has got to be better,” said Kyralee Scott, 16, of New Jersey, whose father spent most of the year out of work.
Some New York revelers, wearing party hats and “2012” glasses, began camping out on Saturday morning, even as workers readied bags stuffed with hundreds of balloons and technicians put colored filters on klieg lights. The crowds cheered as workers lit the crystal-paneled ball that dropped at midnight Saturday 120 meters above the street.
The sphere, now decorated with 3,000 Waterford crystal triangles, has been dropping to mark the new year since 1907, long before television made it a US tradition.
The first worldwide celebrations started in Samoa, which hopped across the international date line, skipping Friday and moving instantly to Saturday. Samoa and neighboring Tokelau, which lie near the dateline, decided to realign themselves this year from the Americas’ side of the line to the Asia side to be more in tune with key trading partners.
In Sydney, more than 1.5 million people watched the shimmering pyrotechnic display designed around the theme “Time to Dream.”
In London, which will host the 2012 Olympics, a firework display kicked off with a recording of the moment the British capital learned it would host the Games.
An estimated 250,000 people lined the banks of the River Thames, watching rings of fireworks in the Olympic colors flash in the sky, while the famous clock tower in the parliament building lit up with fireworks at every chime of the Big Ben bell.
World leaders evoked 2011’s struggles in their New Year’s messages with some ambivalence.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Europe’s crisis was not finished and “that 2012 will be the year full of risks, but also of possibilities.”
Pope Benedict XVI marked the end of 2011 with prayers of thanks and said humanity awaited the new year with apprehension but also with hope for a better future.
“We prepare to cross the threshold of 2012, remembering that the Lord watches over us and takes care of us,” Benedict said. “In him this evening we want to entrust the entire world. We put into his hands the tragedies of this world of ours, and we also offer him the hopes for a better future.”
In Brazil, heavy rains didn’t halt parties as upward of two million people gathered on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro and nearly as many on a main avenue in Sao Paulo, South America’s biggest city. Massive fireworks displays and top music acts graced stages across the nation.
Brazil has seen healthy economic growth in recent years, as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Growth, however, has stalled in recent months, and Brazilian leaders are trying to stimulate the economy in the new year.
Like a big party
In Times Square, hundreds of thousands of people were crammed into spectator pens ringed by barricades, enjoying surprisingly warm weather for the Northeast this time of year. The National Weather Service said on Saturday it was about 49 degrees Fahrenheit in nearby Central Park. That’s about 10 degrees warmer than the normal high temperature this time of year.
Many expressed cautious hope that better times were ahead after a year in which Japan was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, hurricanes wreaked havoc across the country and a debt crisis devastated Europe’s economy.
“Everybody’s suffering. That’s why it’s so beautiful to be here celebrating something with everybody,” said Lisa Nicol, 47, of Melbourne, Australia.
For all of the holiday’s bittersweet potential, New York City always treats it like a big party—albeit one that now takes place under the watchful eye of a massive security force, including more than 1,500 police officers.
Celebrities host parties
In Las Vegas, police shut down a 6.4-kilometer section of the Strip to vehicle traffic six hours before midnight, letting revelers party in the street. Casino nightclubs touted pricey, exclusive bashes hosted by celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Fergie, and fireworks were expected to shoot from the rooftops of eight of the city’s most famous casinos.
Atlanta welcomed thousands to its downtown, where a giant peach is dropped every New Year’s Eve at midnight. In Houston, tens of thousands were celebrating at a party with country singer Delbert McClinton.
In summer temperatures at Key West, Florida, three separate midnight drops were planned. A giant facsimile of a conch shell was lowered at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering hole when he lived in Key West. At the Bourbon Street Pub complex, a drag queen named Sushi was to descend in a glittering 1.83-meter red women’s high heel.
Several people told the Associated Press that they would usher in the New Year hoping the US Congress would become a more cooperative place. Some talked about their hopes for the presidential election. Others said they hoped to hold on to their job, or find a new one to replace one they’d lost.
An AP-GfK poll found that 62 percent of Americans are optimistic that the nation’s fortunes will improve in 2012, and 78 percent hopeful that their own family will have a better year. Most wrote off 2011 as a dud. AFP, AP and Karen Boncocan, INQUIRER.net