Archive for Monday, January 1, 2007

Violence, weather disrupt global celebrations

January 1, 2007


— The world welcomed 2007 with skyrockets and rock concerts but in some corners of the globe, the New Year was marked by saber-rattling and bombings.

Fireworks exploded over Sydney's Harbor Bridge as a million onlookers greeted the New Year. In London, thousands of revelers gathered to cheer as Big Ben rang in 2007. But the Thai capital of Bangkok canceled the main celebration after nine bombs exploded across the city, many in crowded tourist areas. Two people were killed and 34 were injured.

In Sydney - one of the world's first major cities to see the dawn of the new year - people crammed the harbor shore for a lavish fireworks display celebrating the 75th anniversary of its iconic bridge.

Thousands of would-be revelers who had gathered at Bangkok's Central World Plaza shopping mall complex for the event were sent home, officials said. Festivities continued in other parts of the city, though, including the famous Patpong Road red light district. Police and army troops with assault rifles, meanwhile, guarded some tourist sites, mass transit stations and traffic circles.

In India, police arrested two suspected Islamic militants about half a mile from the site of New Delhi's main public New Year's Eve celebrations, a report said, citing police.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed at a New Year's Eve service at the Vatican City in Rome that 2007 would bring the world "peace, comfort, justice." But he cast a cold eye on some secular New Year celebrations, saying such social "rites" are "often carried out as an escape from reality."

In London, Big Ben's chimes were relayed by sound systems along the banks of the great, gray River Thames. Crowds flocked to the banks near the Houses of Parliament to watch a light show countdown projected onto the 443-foot London Eye Ferris wheel, followed by a 10-minute fireworks display "big enough and loud enough to be seen ... all over the capital," Mayor Ken Livingstone said.

Political overtones

In North Korea, an editorial carried in all three state-controlled newspapers celebrated the new year by boasting that the country's possession of nuclear weapons "serves as a powerful force for defending peace and security ... and guaranteeing the victorious advance of the cause of independence."

The editorial exhorted North Koreans to "mercilessly defeat any invasion of the U.S. imperialists."

Meanwhile two former Communist Eastern bloc states, Romania and Bulgaria, took another step toward the West as they became the newest members of the European Union at midnight. Fireworks thundered through the sky in the Romanian capital.

"Citizens of Bucharest. Welcome to the EU," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said, standing on a stage with Romania's president and European foreign ministers. The ministers from Germany, Denmark, Austria and Hungary wished Romanians a Happy New Year, and planned to fly today to Bulgaria for celebrations there.

Weather disruptions

High winds and winter storms dampened celebrations in other parts of Europe. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, an outdoor concert that was to feature soul singer Beverley Knight and rock band The Thrills was called off due to the threat of gale-force winds.

Glasgow officials said high winds and rain had forced them to cancel Hogmanay, or traditional New Year's celebrations, in the Scottish city. Edinburgh at the last minute also canceled its Hogmanay party, which was to be headlined by the Pet Shop Boys.

In Belgium, several fireworks displays were canceled after two party tents set up for celebrations in northern Belgium blew away on Saturday.

No official celebrations were planned in Paris, but thousands were expected to congregate along the city's glittering Champs-Elysees to welcome 2007.

In Japan, thousands climbed mountains, some scaling famed Mount Fuji, to greet the first dawn of the year. Police expected crowds on the peaks to reach 15,000.

Many Japanese - ranging from families with children to elderly couples - usually start climbing at night so they can reach the top in time for sunrise.

Police anticipated 95 million visitors to the country's major Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines over the first three days of the new year, as people offer prayers for peace, health and prosperity in one of the few religious rites in which most Japanese regularly take part.


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