Sydney and Auckland are first major cities to ring in 2024

In view of the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine, many cities across the world are deploying extra security, and some places cancelled New Year's Eve events

By AP

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Fireworks explode over the Harbour Bridge as part of New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney. — AP
Fireworks explode over the Harbour Bridge as part of New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney. — AP

Published: Sun 31 Dec 2023, 7:16 PM

Sydney and Auckland have become the world's first major cities to ring in 2024, with more than a million revellers cheering spectacular fireworks displays that lit up the skies over Sydney Harbor and New Zealand’s tallest structure, Sky Tower.

As the clock struck midnight in Australia's largest city, tons of explosives erupted in a 12-minute display that focused on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. More than 1 million people, a number equivalent to one in five of the city's residents, watched from the shore and from boats in the harbour.

“It’s total madness,” said German tourist Janna Thomas, who had waited in line since 7.30am to secure a prime waterfront location in the Sydney Botanic Garden. “It’s not so easy to find a good place to sit, but the view is incredible.”

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In Auckland, the light rain that fell all day had cleared as forecast by midnight over the city of 1.7 million people before the countdown began on an illuminated digital display near the top of the 328-metre communications and observation tower.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbour as early New Year celebrations begin in Sydney. — AP
Fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbour as early New Year celebrations begin in Sydney. — AP

The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and heightened tensions in parts of the world, are affecting this year's New Year's Eve celebrations in a myriad of ways. Many cities were deploying extra security, and some places cancelled New Year's Eve events altogether.

More police than ever were deployed throughout Sydney. The waterfront has been the scene of heated pro-Palestinian protests after the sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated in the colours of the Israeli flag.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled 2023 as a year marked by wartime suffering. During his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, he offered prayers for “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people and many others".

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and on the Harbour Bridge. — AP
Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and on the Harbour Bridge. — AP

“At the end of the year, we will have the courage to ask ourselves how many human lives have been shattered by armed conflict, how many dead and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty," the pontiff said. “Whoever has interest in these conflicts, listen to the voice of conscience.”

In New York City, officials and party organisers said they were prepared to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of revellers expected to flood Times Square in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

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Mayor Eric Adams said there were “no specific threats” to the annual New Year’s Eve bash, which was set to feature live performances from Flo Rida, Megan Thee Stallion and LL Cool J, as well as televised appearances from Cardi B and others. Organisers said in-person attendance was expected to return to pre-Covid levels, even as foot traffic around Times Square remains down slightly since the pandemic.

Amid near-daily protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, New York City police said they would expand the security perimeter around the party, creating a “buffer zone” that would allow them to head off potential demonstrations.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and on the Harbour Bridge as part if New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney,. — AP
Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and on the Harbour Bridge as part if New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney,. — AP

Officials also planned to monitor any protests with drones, the mayor said.

“We will be out here with our canines, on horseback, our helicopters, our boats,” Adams said. “But as we saw last year, after having no specific threats, we get a threat.”

During last year’s New Year’s Eve party, a machete-wielding man attacked three police officers a few blocks from Times Square.

Security also will also be heightened across European cities on Sunday.

New Year’s Eve celebrations in the French capital will centre on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, including DJ sets, fireworks and video projections on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting “changes in the city and faces of the Games,” according to the press service of the City of Paris. Other planned events include “the largest Mexican wave ever performed” and a “giant karaoke".

Fireworks burst from the Sky Tower in Auckland. — AP
Fireworks burst from the Sky Tower in Auckland. — AP

The security challenge ahead of the Olympics was highlighted when a tourist was killed in a knife attack near the Eiffel Tower on December 2. Large-scale attacks — such as that at the Bataclan in 2015, when extremists invaded the music hall and shot up cafe terraces, killing 130 people — also loom large.

In Berlin, some 4,500 police officers are expected to keep order and avoid riots like a year ago. Police in the German capital issued a ban on the traditional use of fire crackers for several streets across the city. They also banned a pro-Palestinian protest in the Neukoelln neighbourhood of the city, which has seen several pro-Palestinian riots.

In Russia, the country's military actions in Ukraine have overshadowed end-of-year celebrations, with the usual fireworks and concert on Moscow’s Red Square cancelled, as last year.

In Pakistan, the government has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.

In an overnight televised message, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar urged Pakistanis to “show solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza” by beginning the new year with simplicity.

Kakar said Muslims across the world were saddened over Israel’s attacks on Gaza that resulted in the killings of thousands of innocent people.


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