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Revelers Worldwide Celebrate a New Year

Associated Press | December 31, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - Wind-swept revelers gathered around London's Big Ben to watch the fireworks, and thousands of Japanese climbed Mount Fuji and other peaks to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. But the Thai capital sent celebrants home after a series of evening bombs.

Police estimated a million people crammed the shore in Sydney, one of the world's first major cities to greet the New Year, for the fireworks and daylong festivities, some staking their claims to the best view before dawn Sunday and pitching tents in case of rain.

A series of evening bombings in Bangkok, Thailand, left two people dead and 34 injured, and the city canceled its major New Year's celebration at the Central World Plaza shopping mall complex, where a crowd of about 5,000 dispersed calmly.

"No, I'm not scared. I'm from England. There are bomb scares all the time," said Keith Waters, who was with his Thai bride to celebrate the New Year.

Farther west, Philippine police tried to curb New Year casualties by threatening to arrest anyone who set off oversize firecrackers. Television networks were encouraged to show gory footage of fireworks accident victims.

Despite the warning, 284 people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire in the two weeks ahead of New Year's Day, a 75 percent rise from last year, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

"I have campaigned every day against firecrackers," Duque said. "But this has become a deeply rooted part of our culture."

Many Filipinos believe noisy New Year celebrations drive away evil and misfortune.

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

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

Japanese police anticipated the country's major Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to receive nearly 95 million visitors 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.

In Romania and Bulgaria, midnight was to mark a historic milestone, with the two countries becoming the newest members of the European Union. Outdoor parties were taking place in Bucharest and Sofia.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed at a New Year's Eve service in Vatican City that 2007 would bring the world "peace, comfort, justice."

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, however, the threat of gale-force winds canceled an outdoor concert. Glasgow officials said high winds and rain had forced them to cancel traditional Hogmanay New Year's celebrations in the Scottish city, but Edinburgh said it would go ahead with its Hogmanay party nonetheless.


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