Around the world, revelers ring in New Year

Throngs celebrate from East to West

Email|Print| Text size + By Angela Doland
Associated Press / January 1, 2008

PARIS - A million revelers cheered fireworks in Sydney. Beijing started the year with singing and dancing displays hosted by Summer Olympics organizers. And rare celebrations resounded in war-torn Baghdad.

Across the globe, people gathered for parties, shot off fireworks, and held out hopes for a peaceful and prosperous 2008.

But reminders of violence were apparent as well, as security was tightened in many nations. Fireworks were canceled in downtown Brussels, where police last week detained 14 people suspected of plotting to help an accused Al Qaeda militant break out of jail. In Paris, where festivities centered on the famous Champs-Elysees and the Eiffel Tower, about 4,500 police and 140 rescue officials patrolled the streets.

In Thailand, an army spokesman said he believed that five bombs set off by suspected Muslim insurgents in a Thai-Malaysian border tourist town probably targeted New Year's revelers.

The bombs, which wounded 27 people, exploded in the hotel and nightlife area of Sungai Kolok, including two inside a hotel dance club and one hidden in the basket of a motorcycle outside a hotel, spokesman Colonel Akara Thiprote said.

Baghdad witnessed something Iraq had not seen since before the invasion of 2003: people publicly partying to welcome in a new year.

The ballrooms of two landmark hotels - the Palestine and the Sheraton - were full of people for New Year's Eve celebrations. After years of car bombings, mortar fire, and suicide attacks, Iraq's capital was sufficiently calm to warrant the two high-end parties in the once-posh hotels.

Several European countries rang in the new year with new habits.

Starting at midnight, the smoke-filled cafe was to become a memory in France. Following up on a ban last year on smoking in many indoor locations, cigarettes will now be off-limits in dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, casinos, and cafes. People can still smoke in their homes, hotel rooms, and sealed smoking chambers at establishments that provide them.

Two European Union newcomers, Cyprus and Malta, start using the euro at the stroke of midnight. The Mediterranean islands, both former British colonies, scrap the Cyprus pound and Maltese lira to bring the number of countries using the shared currency to 15. Politicians will ceremonially withdraw euros from automatic teller machines after midnight, with fireworks and outdoor celebrations in the two capitals, Nicosia and Valletta.

Along with the innovations, old European traditions were maintained.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin gave the final New Year's Eve address of his eight-year presidency, boasting of economic improvements and saying he had restored a sense of unity among Russians, who are likely to see him stay in power as prime minister after he steps down in a few months.

In Moscow, thousands gathered on Red Square to ring in the New Year, watching a concert on a stage beneath the colorful onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral, and fireworks above. A skating rink was set up on the cobblestone square.

Russian border guards on Ratmanov Island, in the Bering Sea near the Interational Date Line, and others in Russia's easternmost reaches - nine time zones ahead of the capital - greeted 2008.

In London, people were gathering in Trafalgar Square and along the banks of the River Thames to watch a fireworks display and hear Big Ben - Parliament's iconic bell - welcome the New Year with 12 resounding bongs.

In a quirky tradition in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, Madrid residents planned to dine on 12 grapes - one for each chime at midnight.

Berlin was braced for a massive fete: In a stretch leading from the city's famous Brandenburg Gate along Tiergarten park to the western part of town, officials set up three stages, 13 bands, a 40-yard-tall Ferris wheel and over 100 beer stands and snack joints.

In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI took a somber note, lamenting what he called the "trivialization" of sexuality and lack of faith among young people during a vespers' service in St. Peter's Basilica.

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