| Jewel Ssmad |
NEW YORK (AFP) – Millions of revellers took to the streets around the world from Sydney to New York to usher in 2015 on Thursday, but celebrations turned to tragedy in China, where 35 people were killed in a stampede in central Shanghai.
As many as a million partygoers braved frigid temperatures and poured into New York’s Times Square for America’s annual New Year party that this year featured pop sensation Taylor Swift.
Merrymakers in the Big Apple braved frigid weather wearing traditional festive top hats, kissing and snapping selfies as a giant illuminated crystal ball slid down a pole, touching ground at precisely the stroke of midnight.
As Times Square erupted in cheers and confetti, the rest of the globe celebrated with spectacular fireworks displays in cities from Sydney to Moscow.
The optimism was demonstrated in Australia, where an estimated one million people flocked to a massive fireworks display in Sydney Harbour, defying terrorist fears days after a deadly siege.
“We are celebrating that we are a multicultural, harmonious community but we will be thinking about what happened,” Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore said in reference to the deadly standoff when an Iranian-born gunman took 17 hostages in a cafe.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of people crowded the city’s promenades to watch an eight-minute pyrotechnic display after a year in which busy thoroughfares were paralysed for months by pro-democracy protests.
“I think a more peaceful year would be good for everybody,” said Louis Ho, 65.
Europe’s celebrations kicked off in Moscow, where red and green fireworks lit up the sky over St Basil’s Cathedral, bringing “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd braving sub-zero conditions.
President Vladimir Putin sent a greeting to his US counterpart Barack Obama, saying they had a mutual responsibility to ensure world peace after a year that has seen relations between Russia and the West sink to their worst point since the Cold War.
Dubai celebrated the new year with a light and sound extravaganza at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, which was lit up with different-coloured panels as the clock counted down to 2015.
London was the latest major European city to welcome the New Year, its skyline illuminated by a thunderous firework display in front of over 100,000 ticket holders gathered on the banks of the River Thames.
Further north, Edinburgh held its traditional Hogmanay street party although celebrations at the nearby Stirling Castle were cancelled due to high winds.
In Paris, the Champs-Elysees was closed off to traffic to allow pedestrians to watch a visual spectacle projected onto the Arc de Triomphe before a huge fireworks display greeted the New Year.
Tens of thousands of people gathered near the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin to watch fireworks and a free concert featuring “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff.
“The Hoff” had the crowd singing along to “Looking for Freedom”, the song he performed 25 years ago as the Berlin Wall fell.
Roughly 20,000 people packed Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square to ring in 2015, gobbling a grape on each of the 12 chimes of the clock at midnight for 12 months of good luck.
It was a particularly significant night for Lithuania, where leaders withdrew their first euro notes from a Vilnius bank machine after it became the 19th country to adopt the single currency.
Across Asia, revellers celebrated with fireworks and music, with hundreds of thousands crowding near the landmark skyscraper Taipei 101 to watch performances by pop singers.
But in Malaysia, a sombre mood prevailed after the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 carrying 162 people and flooding in the northeast that has displaced almost 250,000.
Year-end celebrations have been cancelled, with many companies instead launching fundraising campaigns for flood victims.
In Indonesia, where most of the victims were from, New Year festivities in the capital started solemnly with a prayer for the victims while relatives gathered in Surabaya for a candlelit vigil in the hours before midnight.
In the Americas, in addition to New York’s massive street party, celebrations were expected across the region, including in Brazil, where more than two million people were expected to attend a fireworks show on Copacabana beach to open celebrations marking 450 years since the founding of Rio de Janeiro.