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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK


Sparks set to fly on millennium night

Artist's impression of River Thames on millennium night

A giant fireworks display will form the centrepiece of millennium celebrations in London.

From Big Ben's first stroke of midnight, a series of 2,000 pyrotechnic candles - one for each year of modern history - will be set off up the river from Tower Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge, creating a 'river of fire'.

This will happen in 10.8-seconds - the same rate at which the earth revolves on our latitude - so that we 'spiritually rotate with the planet into the new millennium'.

[ image: Big Ben tower will light up as midnight strikes]
Big Ben tower will light up as midnight strikes
Michael Lockett, who is co-ordinating the 'Big Time' event said: "That is at the speed of 1,240 kilometres per hour, so you'll get this river of fire which shoots straight down the centre of the river up to a height of approximately 60-metres."

Shortly after, there will be a 15-minute firework display from barges on the Thames.

There will also be fairgrounds at various points north and south of the river as well as events at a 'global village' between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges.

Celebrations in other capital cities will be relayed to revellers via giant television screens.

Big Ben will also light up at the midnight hour and there will be a firework display at Greenwich in south London.

Global celebration

Nick Raynsford, minister for London said he opened the entertainment would appeal to everyone.

He said: "There is music, fairs, there are spectacular events. There will be dancing, there will be colour, there will be fireworks, there will be something to excite the imagination of every section of the community in London.

"I above all, want people to come and really enjoy themselves, to participate, to feel they've had a great night out and go home safely."

The controversial Millennium Dome will only be able to hold 10,000 invited guests on New Year's Eve, but 'Big Time' will cater for an estimated 2.5 million people who will only have to pay for the rides and their food and drink. Everything else is free.

Mr Raynsford said that even more events would be announced in the autumn.

Police leave cancelled

He said that safety has been a priority for the event and planning has involved all emergency services and transport groups.

Assistant Police Commissioner Ian Johnstone of the Metropolitan Police has cancelled leave for his 26,000 officers over the millennium, to ensure a strong police presence.

He said: "We have a great deal of practice in managing major events in London. We've had the World Cup, we've had Euro Football, we have Notting Hill carnival where something in the region of a million people gather on London streets each year ... together with a wealth of experience around previous new year's eve celebrations."

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