The Malta Independent 16 June 2019, Sunday

Watch: Hello, 2019 - Revelry, reflection as world greets new year

Associated Press Monday, 31 December 2018, 14:21 Last update: about 7 months ago

Revelers around the globe are bidding a weary farewell Monday to an unsettling year filled with challenges to many of the world's most basic institutions, including politics, trade, alliances and religion.

Here's a look at how people are ushering in the new year:

NEW YORK

A drenching rain couldn't keep crowds from packing Times Square for the traditional crystal ball drop and a string of star performances.

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Christina Aguilera pumped up the crowd, performing in a snow-white dress and coat while partygoers danced in their rain ponchos.

Bebe Rexha sang John Lennon's "Imagine" just before the midnight ball drop.

The celebration took place under tight security. Partygoers were checked for weapons and then herded into pens, ringed by metal barricades, where they waited for the stroke of midnight.

But the weather forced police to scrap plans to fly a drone to help keep watch over the crowd.

Revelers paid up to $10 for plastic ponchos trying to stay dry. Umbrellas were banned for security reasons.

RIO DE JANEIRO

More than 2 million people celebrated the new year on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.

A 14-minute fireworks display ushered Brazil into 2019 only hours before far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro will be sworn in as president.

Many Brazilians were on the road to the capital of Brasilia on Monday night to watch the former army captain's inauguration Tuesday afternoon.

The last evening of 2018 in Rio was 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius), and many Brazilians took a dip in the water and made their offerings to Yemanja, a sea goddess in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble faith.

LONDON

Britons ushered in the new year with the familiar chimes of Big Ben, even though the world famous clock has been disconnected for more than a year because of a conservation project.

Parliament announced last week that the clock's massive bell would sound to mark the new year with the help of a specially built electric mechanism to power the hammer, which weighs about 440 pounds (200 kilograms). The clock mechanism, which has kept time since 1859, has been dismantled as part of the renovation work.

New Year's Eve without Big Ben would be positively un-British. The comforting chimes are used by TV and radio stations throughout Britain to herald the moment of transition from the old to the new year.

PARIS

Parisians and tourists gathered on the Champs-Elysees to celebrate New Year's Eve under heavy security.

Anti-government protesters from the yellow vest movement have issued calls on social media for "festive" demonstrations on the famous avenue.

Paris police set up a security perimeter in the area, with bag searches, a ban on alcohol and traffic restrictions. The Interior Ministry said Sunday that the heavy security measures are needed because of a "high terrorist threat" and concerns about "non-declared protests."

President Emmanuel Macron gave his traditional New Year address to briefly lay out his priorities for 2019, as some protesters angry over high taxes and his pro-business policies plan to continue their demonstrations in coming weeks.

Ahead of midnight, a light show with the theme of brotherhood took place on the Arc de Triomphe monument at the top of the Champs-Elysees.

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BERLIN

Tens of thousands of people celebrated the start of 2019 at Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate.

The annual New Year's celebrations took place amid tight security, with about 1,300 officers deployed throughout the heart of the German capital and revelers banned from taking fireworks, bottles or large bags into the fenced-off party zone.

By midnight, Berlin police reported fewer incidents than in previous years.

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VATICAN CITY

Pope Francis has rounded out the most problematic year of his papacy by presiding over a vespers service and praying before the Vatican's giant sand sculpture Nativity scene.

During his homily Monday, Francis lamented how many people spent 2018 living on the edge of dignity, homeless or forced into modern forms of slavery.

Accompanied by his chief alms-giver, Francis then walked out into St. Peter's Square, where he greeted pilgrims and prayed before the Nativity scene, carved out of 720 tons of packed sand.

On Tuesday, Francis will celebrate Mass to mark the start of a new year and officially leave behind 2018, which saw a new eruption of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

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KIRIBATI

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati was the first in the world to welcome the new year, greeting 2019 with muted celebrations after spending 2018 on the front line of the battle against climate change.

Kiribati is made up of low-lying atolls along the equator which intersect three time zones, the first of which sees the new year 14 hours before midnight in London.

Much of the nation's land mass, occupied by 110,000 people, is endangered by rising seas which have inundated coastal villages. The rising oceans have turned freshwater sources brackish, imperilling communities and raising doubts the nation will exist at the next New Year. Former President Anote Tong said the only future for Kiribati may be mass migration.

The new year was welcomed in the capital, Tarawa, with church services and mostly quiet private celebrations.

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NEW ZEALAND

In Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city, tens of thousands gathered around Sky Tower as fireworks exploded from the top of the 328-meter (1,076-foot) structure. Across the southern hemisphere nation, thousands took to beaches and streets, becoming the first major nation in the world to usher in 2019.

Fireworks boomed and crackled above city centres and harbours.

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AUSTRALIA

A thunderstorm drenched tens of thousands of people as they gathered for Sydney's traditional spectacular fireworks display, creating a show of its own with dozens of lightning strikes.

Police estimated that more than a million people would crowd Sydney Harbor to view the glittering fireworks. People began gathering early in the day at popular vantage points, including the Opera House and the ends of the Harbor Bridge.

The show was to feature more than 100,000 pyrotechnic effects accompanied by music culminating at midnight with "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," made famous by Aretha Franklin, who died in August.

Police said they were taking precautions to prevent any terrorist attack, but assured revellers there was no specific threat.

"We put obstacles between those large crowds and vehicles to ensure people can get in and out safely and enjoy their night in safety," police Acting Deputy Commissioner Mark Walton said.

More than 1 billion people around the world were expected to watch the fireworks on television.

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THE UNITED NATIONS

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a bleak New Year's message that called climate change an existential threat and warned that "it's time to seize our last best chance." He noted growing intolerance, geopolitical divisions and inequality, resulting in people "questioning a world in which a handful of people hold the same wealth as half of humanity."

"But there are also reasons for hope," he said. "As we begin this New Year, let's resolve to confront threats, defend human dignity and build a better future — together."

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SOUTH KOREA

After an eventful year that saw three inter-Korean summits and the easing of tensions over North Korea's nuclear program, South Koreans enter 2019 with hopes that the hard-won detente will expand into a stable peace.

Thousands of South Koreans were expected to fill the streets of the capital, Seoul, for a traditional bell-tolling ceremony near City Hall to usher in the new year. Dignitaries picked to ring the old Bosingak bell at midnight include famous surgeon Lee Guk-jong, who successfully operated on a North Korean soldier who escaped to South Korea in 2017 in a hail of bullets fired by his comrades.

Elsewhere, about 10,000 people were expected to attend the tolling of a "peace bell" at Imjingak, a pavilion near the border with North Korea.

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NORTH KOREA

Leader Kim Jong Un will keep North Korea watchers busy on New Year's Day, when he is expected to give his annual address laying out the country's priorities for the year ahead. The speech is often the best gauge of what the North Korean leadership is focused on and what tone it will take in its dealings with the outside world.

Kim's speech it will be parsed carefully for clues about his thinking on denuclearization talks with Washington and a second summit with President Donald Trump, relations with South Korea, and North Korea's efforts to get out from under international sanctions as it tries to build its domestic economy.

In his New Year's speech this past year, Kim proposed talks with South Korea to reduce tensions and said the North would be willing to participate in South Korea's Winter Olympics, setting off a series of summits with the South and the U.S.

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CHINA

New Year's Eve isn't celebrated that widely in mainland China, where the Lunar New Year in February is a more important holiday, but countdown events were being held in major cities and some of the faithful headed to Buddhist temples for bell-ringing and prayers.

The city of Beijing was holding a gala with VIP guests at the main site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The event looked ahead to the 2022 Winter Games, which also will be held in the Chinese capital.

Additional police were deployed in parts of Shanghai, where a New Year's Eve stampede in 2014 killed 36 people. In Beijing, outdoor revellers had to brave temperatures well below freezing.

President Xi Jinping, in a message broadcast at the top of the evening news, outlined the country's achievements over the past year and said that by hosting a series of multinational meetings in 2018, "we have put forward China's proposals and sent out China's voice."

In Hong Kong, festive lights on the city's iconic skyscrapers provided the backdrop for fireworks, music and light show over Victoria Harbor on a chilly evening. About 300,000 people were expected to line the waterfront.

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THAILAND

While many celebrate New Year's Eve with fireworks, hundreds of Thais travelled to Takien Temple in a suburb of Bangkok to lie inside coffins for traditional funeral rituals. Participants believe the ceremony — symbolizing death and rebirth — helps rid them of bad luck and allows them to be born again for a fresh start in the new year.

Participants held flowers and incense in their hands as monks covered them with pink sheets and chanted prayers for the dead.

"It wasn't scary or anything. It is our belief that it will help us get rid of bad luck and bring good fortune to our life," said Busaba Yookong, who came to the temple with her family.

Bangkok is filled with modern glitzy malls and high-rise buildings, but superstitious beliefs still hold sway in many aspects of Thai society.

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PHILIPPINES

Dozens of people have been injured by firecrackers ahead of New Year's Eve, when many across the Philippines set off powerful firecrackers in one of Asia's most violent celebrations despite a government scare campaign and threats of arrests.

The Department of Health said it has recorded more than 50 firecracker-caused injuries in the last 10 days, which is expected to increase overnight when Filipinos usher in 2019 with a bang. Although still a concern, the figure is significantly lower than a year ago, partly because fewer Filipinos have purchased firecrackers due to hard economic times.

Officials have urged centralized fireworks displays to discourage wild and sometimes fatal merry-making. The notorious tradition, worsened by celebratory gunfire that turned deadly, stems from a Chinese-influenced belief that noise drives away evil and misfortune.

 

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