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Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 13:23 GMT
When words are not enough
Tony Blair wished for "peace and prosperity"
Out with the old and in with the new.

Profound, it is not. But any effort to encapsulate the end of the 20th Century and the dawn of the third millennium in a few words is a tall order.

However, that fact has not deterred people across the planet from trying.

Into 2000
Everyone, from world leaders to new year revellers, has been attempting to capture the spirit of this unique moment in time.

Inevitably, the search for a suitably portentous sentiment has been seized on by the one group of people who are well practised at speaking in soundbites - politicians.

So it was that United States President Bill Clinton said: "If the story of the 20th Century is the triumph of freedom, then let the 21st Century be the triumph of freedom wisely used."

Bill Clinton: "Freedom wisely used"
By comparison, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's was more low key: "To people throughout the world we wish you peace, we wish you prosperity in the New Year."

At the close of a chilling century for Germany, the country's chancellor, Gerhard Shroeder, urged a change of priorities.

He said: "We do not need a society where many know almost everything about the Bangkok stock exchange but where nobody realises any longer that his neighbour's mailbox has not been emptied for weeks."

French president Jacques Chriac was more gung-ho: "France has a past of over 1,000 years rich with excitement, passion and enthusiasm. Now, as in the past, it continues to be a world trailblazer. There is a new century for us to invent, more fraternal and more helpful."

In Russia, President Boris Yeltsin secured his place in the spotlight by announcing he was throwing in the towel. Brevity was his watchword: "Today, on the last day of the outgoing century, I resign."

Yeltsin: "I resign"
His prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who is hotly tipped as Yeltsin's successor, offered a message of goodwill which many saw as being at odds with Russia's role in the war with Chechnya.

"Let's wish ... for love and peace in every home ...," he said.

Others on the same track included former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who said: "Let the abuse of children and women and the neglect of the poor remain behind merely as phenomena of the 20th Century."

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu said: "We have secured the peace and liberty of everyone. This feeling of safety is the big gain of this end of century and millennium. Maybe it is too big to be seen. Or too close to be felt. Or too profound to be enjoyed."

Reflecting on a year of peace, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: "If we want to know our country, we must hold a candle to our past. We should recognise the sacrifices of so many and the formation of the peaceful confident nation we have today."

the Chinese people will unshakeably proceed along the road of building socialism with Chinese characteristics

China's Jiang Zemin
"More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations," said United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

Other world leaders saw it as an opportunity for a spot of politicking.

"We firmly believe that, in the new century, the Chinese people will unshakeably proceed along the road of building socialism with Chinese characteristics," said China's president, Jiang Zemin.

Turkmen president Saparmyrat Niyazov said: "In a few minutes from now we shall start the golden age of the Turkmen people."

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei brought up the Palestine question
"The ugliest feature of this century was the issue of Palestine. Why? Because a nation was kicked out of its homeland," said Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In Sudan, President Umar al-Bashir said: "We want the whole world to know that Sudan now has a new face based on sound orientation and policies and looks forward to good things."

Beyond of the corridors of power, sentiments depended very much on individual circumstances.

"No news is good news. It's a cliche, I know, but in this case it really works," said Bob Jorgensen, spokesman for Boeing, relieved that feared Y2K bug problems had not materialised.

It was similar for Basil Logan, chairman of the Y2K readiness commission in New Zealand. "The lights are still on," he said cheerfully.

Our housekeeping needs drastically improving

BBC News Online reader Tony, New Zealand
"I'm glad it's over," said historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr, on being asked for his reflections on the 20th Century.

Many BBC News Online readers were on a similar wavelength as they responded to the challenge to sum up the century.

"The only thing we can learn from history is that people never learn anything from history," said Derek Dunn of Manchester in the UK.

"The 20th Century is an age of information overload, greedy market speculation, cloning and chronic shortage of food," reflected Ali Bubbar of Djibouti.

"Our housekeeping needs drastically improving," thought Tony, in New Zealand.

A couple of readers put it more casually: "DOH!" said Sarah, from England, and "Whoops!" said Martin Wickens, also from England.

But for many the moment of the new millennium was a time for unadulterated celebration, in all shapes and forms.

Times Square or a submarine 400ft down - which would you prefer?
While partying at Japan's Tokyo Bay, Hirotoshi Koyama, 39, said: "I hope the year 2000 brings us more hope so we can all feel motivated to work harder."

"It's better than Times Square," opined Lieutenant Michael Bratton, on the nuclear-red attack submarine USS Topeka, as it rested 400ft under water while straddling the international date line and the equator.

No that Greg Packer, 36, would agree. "I want to go to sleep, but the spirit is keeping me up," he told a reporter while partying in New York's Times Square.

However, in the cold light of day Mr Packer and millions of others around the world will feel Britain's Sun newspaper caught the spirit perfectly with its cut-out-and-keep sign:

"DO NOT DISTURB! (I've got the biggest hangover for 2,000 years)."

See also:

01 Jan 00 | In Depth
01 Jan 00 | In Depth
01 Jan 00 | UK
01 Jan 00 | Americas
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