Celebrations start in Asia as world rolls toward New Year

Sydney, Australia > Hundreds of thousands of revelers watched fireworks burst over Sydney Harbor for New Year’s Eve on Sunday night, while crowds scaled Japan’s Mount Fuji for the first glimpse of the 2007 dawn and the Philippines braced for firecracker carnage.

Sydney, one of the world’s first major cities to greet the new year, held a preliminary children’s fireworks display at 9 p.m. local time (1000 GMT), before the main event at midnight. Organizers have promised the largest fireworks display ever seen over the harbor in early celebration of the 75th anniversary, in March 2007, of the iconic Harbor Bridge’s opening.

Further west, Philippine police tried to curb annual New Year casualties by threatening to arrest anyone who sets off oversize firecrackers. TV networks were encouraged to show gory footage of fireworks accident victims. Despite the warning, the number of people injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire has risen by 75 percent, with 284 hurt, in the two weeks ahead of New Year’s Day compared to the same period last year, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. Many Filipinos believe noisy New Year celebrations drive away evil and misfortune.

Elsewhere in Asia, wild weather was curbing festivities. Thailand’s state news agency warned weekend vacationers of waves up to 3 meters (10 feet) high lashing coastal areas on the Gulf of Thailand. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has urged revelers to closely monitor weather forecasts before heading for beaches in the southern part of the gulf, it said.

In neighboring Malaysia, the Meteorological Department warned of waves up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) high off the eastern coast of peninsular Malaysia, and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island.

Seasonal rains and storms have lashed large areas of Indonesia for several weeks. More than 140 people were killed and 13,000 houses destroyed on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in recent days. On Friday, 5-meter (16-foot) waves sank a passenger ferry off neighboring Java island, leaving more than 500 people missing. A day earlier, a ship went down off Sumatra, killing at least three and leaving more than 20 missing.

In Japan, police expected more than 15,000 people to go mountain climbing, some on the famed Mount Fuji, to greet the first dawn of the new year. The Japanese National Policy Agency said it anticipates the country’s major Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines will 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 partake.