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The BBC's David Shukman
"Tonight will see the biggest street celebrations ever seen in Britain"
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The London Eye
"The opening of the Millennium Wheel"
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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 21:47 GMT
Laser spins millennium wheel

The millennium beacon Lasers light up the first millennium beacon on the river Thames

Tony Blair has set London's millennium wheel in motion as part of the celebrations to welcome the new century.

The UK prime minister fired a laser beam across the Thames to officially open the new 450ft London Eye landmark.

It will spin slowly all night as the party continues around it - although there are no passengers on board after last-minute checks discovered that one of the 32 passenger capsules was unsafe.

The event was marked by deafening fireworks and a fly-past by British Airways' flagship jet, Concorde.

From us all here in Britain to people throughout the world, we wish you peace, we wish you prosperity in the new millennium
Tony Blair
Before pressing the button Mr Blair said: "To everyone here and throughout Britain, have a happy and wonderful New Year.

"From us all here in Britain to people throughout the world, we wish you peace, we wish you prosperity in the new millennium."

The Queen, en route to the Dome, stopped off at Southwark Cathedral for a service highlighting the religious significance of the millennium celebrations.

She also met some of the poorest people in society at a nearby homeless shelter.

She then sailed down the River Thames to light a huge millennium beacon afloat on a barge, triggering off a string of gas-powered beacons across the UK.

Meanwhile police were preparing for up to four million party-goers in central London alone.

Into 2000
Crowds are thronging into the centre of London - which is to see the centrepiece of the UK's celebrations - with tens of thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square and the royal parks.

Thousands more are already gathering on bridges across the Thames ready for the midnight fireworks and pyrotechnic displays which will appear to set the river ablaze.

Millennium River Event
1100 GMT - Fairgrounds open north and south of the River Thames
2000 GMT - Millennium Wheel starts turning
2145 GMT - Queen lights National Beacon at Tower Bridge
2200 GMT - 28 searchlights start up from Tower Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge
2218 GMT - The Queen's boat passes HMS Westminster receiving 21-gun salute
2313 GMT - The Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury enter the Dome
Midnight GMT - The River of Fire is lit and the Dome is officially open.
In another last-minute hitch, disgruntled guests for the opening ceremony at the Millennium Dome were forced to queue for up to seven hours to collect their entry passes.

An administrative fiasco meant that about a fifth of the 10,500-strong audience did not receive their tickets through the post, and several hundred had to turn up at Stratford railway station, east London, to collect their tickets in person.

Culture Secretary Chris Smith said two ministers had gone to the station to ensure the distribution of tickets went smoothly.

He added that the government was prepared against any potential strike by the millennium bug.

"We're ready for anything that could happen - we've made all sort of emergency preparations but we hope none of them will be necessary," he said.

Scotland Yard have reported no major transport problems, although police decided to close central roads early to prevent traffic congestion as drivers tried to take their cars into the centre.

Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges have been closed. People are being warned to leave their cars at home and travel by public transport.

Dome dancers Dancers Helen Day and Natalie Kourpa at the Dome
There are some 6,000 police on duty in central London alone. Home Secretary Jack Straw said he was confident forces would be able to cope.

More than 10,000 beacons are being lit across the UK to herald the new millennium.

The first was set alight on the most northerly Shetland Island of Unst, marking the start of a spectacular firework display.

Beacons in all four UK capitals will be lit at 2145 GMT, with London's being ignited by the Queen.

The 758m Millennium Dome will be officially opened minutes before midnight by the Queen.

"This truly remarkable structure and the Millennium Experience inside it have achieved world-wide recognition as symbol's of the United Kingdom's creativity, inventiveness, and focus on the future," writes Mr Blair in the programme for the opening night.

The New Millennium Experience Company's chief executive, Jennie Page, said the atmosphere within the Dome was "quite nervy" in the countdown to the official opening, but everyone was very excited.

Highlights of the Dome programme include performances from the English National Opera Orchestra, music from Jools Holland, The Corrs and Mick Hucknall and prayers read by the Archbishop of Canterbury and three Barnardo's children.

The millennium wheel was opened by Tony Blair
After midnight, two "aerealists" will perform an acrobatic ballet on bungee ropes high above the audience.

An estimated 180,000 revellers will pack Edinburgh's streets to see in the New Year with Scotland's largest ever Hogmanay.

In Cardiff, a concert by Welsh band the Manic Street Preachers is the key event in Wales' millennium celebrations.

In Belfast and Londonderry huge crowds gathered for a night of musical festivities while in Omagh, where 29 people died in the August 1998 bomb, children lit a millennium beacon.

Around England, events range from a Cliff Richard concert in Birmingham to a lantern procession through the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne.

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  UK
In pictures: Preparing for a new millennium
31 Dec 99 |  Scotland
Scotland parties on down
31 Dec 99 |  Wales
Going Manic for the millennium
31 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Musical start to NI party
31 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Hackers target UK rail information
31 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Smith is minister for fiascos, say Tories
30 Dec 99 |  UK
For whom the bell tolls
30 Dec 99 |  UK
Jools Holland: His biggest curtain call yet
27 Dec 99 |  UK
Dome dame gets things done

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