Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Fireworks as world welcomes 2009


New year celebrations around the world

Celebrations have taken place around the world to mark the end of 2008 and usher in the new year.

From Sydney to New York and Auckland to London, revellers greeted 2009 with pyrotechnic shows and street parties.

Some 400,000 people braved freezing temperatures in London for a fireworks display beside the Thames.

In New York almost a million people packed a freezing Times Square as the famous Waterford crystal ball descended to cheers at midnight.

Former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton - picked as the next US secretary of state - helped New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lower the glittering orb for the midnight countdown, as confetti rained from skyscrapers and fireworks filled the sky.

A number of Arab nations - including Egypt, Jordan and Syria - cancelled their planned celebrations in solidarity with Palestinians in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after a fifth day of Israeli air-strikes on the coastal enclave.

Muted festivities

Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, in the Pacific Ocean became the first inhabited place on Earth to celebrate the new year at 1000 GMT.

Fireworks shoot from skyscrapers in Hong Kong

An hour later residents in Auckland, New Zealand, watched a dramatic fireworks display from the city's Sky Tower.

In Australia, huge crowds turned out to watch multi-million dollar fireworks displays in Sydney and Melbourne.

In Sydney, a record crowd of up to 1.5 million people watched fireworks explode over the iconic Harbour Bridge.

The display, featuring thunder, rain and lightning effects, was the largest ever staged in the city. About 5,000kg of fireworks were used.

Organisers of the Sydney festivities said they were hoping it would offer revellers a brief respite from the economic gloom of 2008.

In the Philippines, President Gloria Arroyo described 2008 as a "tumultuous" year.

"I hope that we can all work together as a global community to weather these storms," she said.

A couple kiss in Times Square, New York
New Yorkers and tourists welcomed the new year in Times Square
In Malaysia, the government is not sponsoring any new year events because of the economic downturn.

Celebrations were also muted in the Indian city of Mumbai, following November's deadly attacks on the city.

Tight security was planned, with special measures in place along the city's waterfront - where the militants involved in the attacks slipped ashore.

But some Asian cities did opt to mark the end of 2008 in style.

Fireworks shot from the 101-storey Taipei Tower as midnight struck in Taiwan. In Singapore, more than 250,000 people attended a display in Marina Bay.

And in Hong Kong, half a million people watched - some on the shore, some from boats - as fireworks shot into the sky from 10 skyscrapers surrounding Victoria Harbour.

'Help each other'

At a year's end Vespers prayer in Rome, the splendour of St Peter's Basilica contrasted with Pope Benedict XVI's call for "soberness and solidarity" in 2009.

He urged people not to be afraid during these uncertain times but to help each other.

In London, hundreds of thousands gathered for a spectacular fireworks display by the Thames, and Mayor Boris Johnson set an upbeat tone for the year.

Police on patrol outside Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel
Tight security was in place in Mumbai, India, following November's attacks

"There are those who say we should look ahead to 2009 with foreboding," said Mr Johnson in his New Year's address.

"I want to quote Col Kilgore in Apocalypse Now when he says 'Someday captain, this war is going to end'; and someday, this recession is going to end."

"Let's go forward into 2009 with enthusiasm and purpose," he added.

Meanwhile, engineers adjusted the Houses of Parliament's historic clock, Big Ben, to allow an extra second before it struck midnight.

Astronomers added the extra second to allow for a slight slowing in the Earth's rotation.

In Greece, Palestinian protesters staged a demonstration near an outdoor concert in Athens during New Year celebrations, chanting slogans and burning Israeli, US and EU flags.

As France handed over the EU's rotating six-month presidency to the Czech Republic, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for Europe to remain strong in 2009.

He said the bloc had proved its strength through its reaction to such challenges as the financial crisis, conflict in Georgia and an ambitious greenhouse gas agreement.

"I remain convinced that the world needs a strong, independent, imaginative Europe," he said.

'Tough times'

Hard on the heels of celebrations in Asia and Europe, revellers packed New York's Times Square, where Mayor Bloomberg said economic woes promised "tough times" for the city in 2009.

US president-elect Barack Obama was on holiday in Hawaii, but in his new home of Washington, heavy winds were blamed for at least one death in the area and forced the cancellation of fireworks in two suburbs.

New Year's Eve celebrations were also cancelled in Colorado's famed ski resort, Aspen, after suspicious packages were found at two banks.

Wool scarves gave way to bikinis in South America, however, where as many as two million people squeezed onto Brazil's Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro despite rainy skies and economic storm clouds.

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