Goodbye 2009! World ready for a more hopeful 2010
Associated Press Writer
PARIS – Fireworks exploded over Sydney’s famous bridge and the Eiffel Tower prepared for its own colored-light spectacle as the world celebrated a New Year that many hope will be more prosperous and peaceful than 2009.
Revelers across the globe at least temporarily shelved worries about their future prospects to bid farewell to the first decade of the 21st century.
The financial downturn hit hard in 2009, sending many industrial economies into recession, tossing millions out of work and out of their homes, as foreclosures rose dramatically in some countries.
Germany’s leader warned her people that the start of the new decade won’t herald immediate relief from the global economic ills. South Africa’s president was more ebullient, saying the World Cup is set to make 2010 the country’s most important year since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Other leaders focused on the positive aspects of 2009.
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Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said 2009 had been an extraordinary year for the world – citing the inauguration of the United States’ first black president and international attempts to grapple with climate change and the global financial crisis.
“The great message from 2009 is that because we’ve been all in this together, we’ve all worked together,” Rudd said in a New Year’s message.
Australia got the festivities rolling Thursday, with Sydney draping its skies with explosive bursts of crimson, purple and blue to the delight of more than 1 million New Year revelers.
The environmental concerns that accompanied the U.N. summit in Copenhagen were on the minds of some as the year ended.
Venice revelers were set to ring in the New Year with wet feet as high tide was to peak just before midnight to flood low-lying parts of the city – including the St. Mark’s Square.
In winter, tourists checking into Venice hotels are regularly asked their shoe sizes so they can be fitted with boots to face the lagoon city’s exceptionally high tides.
The last year also offered its reminders of the decade’s fight against terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently, rising militant violence in Pakistan.
The American Embassy in Indonesia warned of a possible terrorist attack on the resort island of Bali on New Year’s Eve, citing information from the island’s governor – though local security officials said Thursday they were unaware of a threat.
More than 8,000 police and soldiers were deployed for extra security in and around Paris. The Eiffel Tower was decked out for its 120th anniversary year with hundreds of multicolored lights for a show that’s more energy-saving than its usual sparkling-light display.
Despite forecasts for below-freezing temperatures, thousands were expected to gather on the banks of the River Thames in London for fireworks after Big Ben strikes midnight.
“(2009 was )like shock therapy, where people really change when something bad happens to them,” said accountant Conrad Jordaan, 35.
“It was a world-changing year, a bad year in many ways, but an important year because of the economic downturn,” he said, enjoying cigarettes and coffee at an outdoor cafe in London. “It will be interesting to see if it changes peoples’ behavior long term.”
Europe and the Americas were likely to be partying harder than Asia. Islamic countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan use a different calendar, and China will mark the new year in February.
Still, in Shanghai, some people paid 518 yuan ($75) to ring the bell at the Longhua Temple at midnight and wish for new-year luck. In Chinese, saying “518” sounds like the phrase “I want prosperity.”
Some festivities went awry.
In the Philippines, hundreds of people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire during the celebrations. Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune – but some carry that belief to extremes.
At Zojoji, one of Tokyo’s oldest and biggest Buddhist temples, thousands of worshippers released clear, helium-filled balloons to mark the new year. Nearby Tokyo Tower twinkled with white lights, while a large “2010” sign glowed from the center.
Across town in Shibuya, the scene was more chaotic. The area, known as a magnet of youth culture, exploded with emotion at the stroke of midnight. Strangers embraced spontaneously as revelers jumped and sang.
Keitaro Morizame, a 24-year-old TV producer in Tokyo, expressed optimism for the new year.
“I really felt the economic downturn last year,” he said. “I think the future will be brighter.”
In Istanbul, Turkish authorities deployed some 2,000 police around Taksim Square to prevent pickpockets and the molestation of women that have marred New Year celebrations in the past.
Some officers were under cover, disguised as street vendors or “even in Santa Claus dress,” Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said.
Firecrackers were already exploding across the Netherlands on Thursday – the only day of the year the Dutch are allowed to set off fireworks. Most such shows are do-it-yourself affairs.
In Stonehaven, on Scotland’s east coast, the fireballs festival – a tradition for a century and a half – sees in the New Year. The pagan festival is observed by marchers swinging large, flaming balls around their heads. The flames are believed to either ensure sunshine or banish harmful influences.
In contrast to many galas worldwide, the Stonehaven Fireballs Association warns those attending not to wear their best clothes – because “there will be sparks flying along with smoke and even whisky.”
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, Daniela Petroff in Venice, Ronan Sullivan in Sydney, Jay Alabaster and Tomoko Hosaka in Tokyo, Cara Anna in Beijing, Gregory Katz in London, and Jim Gomez in Manila, contributed to this story.