From Sydney to Bucharest, fireworks welcome new year

The world welcomed 2007 with skyrockets and rock concerts. But in some corners of the globe, the new year was marked by bombings.

Fireworks exploded over Sydney Harbour Bridge as a million onlookers greeted the new year. In London, thousands of revelers gathered to cheer as Big Ben rang in 2007.

But the Thai capital of Bangkok canceled the main celebration after nine bombs exploded across the city, many in crowded tourist areas. Two people were killed and 34 were injured.

In Sydney, one of the world’s first major cities to usher in the new year, people crammed the harbor shore for the lavish fireworks display celebrating the 75th anniversary of the iconic bridge. 

Thousands of would-be revelers who had gathered at Bangkok’s Central World Plaza shopping mall complex for the event were sent home, officials said. Festivities continued in other parts of the city, though, including the famous Patpong Road red light district. Police and army troops with assault rifles, meanwhile, guarded some tourist sites, mass transit stations and traffic circles.

In India, police arrested two suspected Islamic militants about 1 kilometer, half a mile, from the site of New Delhi’s main public New Year’s Eve celebrations, a report cited police as saying.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed at a New Year’s Eve service at the Vatican City in Rome that 2007 would bring the world “peace, comfort, justice.”

In London, Big Ben’s chimes were relayed by sound systems along the banks of the great, gray River Thames. Crowds flocked to the banks near the Houses of Parliament to watch a light show countdown projected onto the 443-foot London Eye Ferris wheel, followed by a 10-minute fireworks display “big enough and loud enough to be seen … all over the capital,” Mayor Ken Livingstone said.

At least a million revelers were expected to flood Times Square in unseasonably warm New York City to see performances by singers Christina Aguilera and Toni Braxton. The crowd will also cheer and watch a 1,070-pound Waterford Crystal ball fall at midnight. 

In North Korea, an editorial carried in all three state-controlled newspapers celebrated the new year by boasting that the country’s possession of nuclear weapons “serves as a powerful force for defending peace and security… and guaranteeing the victorious advance of the cause of independence.” The editorial exhorted North Koreans to “mercilessly defeat any invasion of the U.S. imperialists.”

Meanwhile, two former Communist Eastern bloc states, Romania and Bulgaria, took another step toward the West as they became the newest members of the European Union at midnight. Fireworks thundered through the sky in the Romanian and Bulgarian capitals, which were decorated with the EU’s blue-and-gold flags. 

Bad weather dampened celebrations in other parts of Europe. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, an outdoor concert that was to feature soul singer Beverley Knight and rock band The Thrills was called off due to the threat of gale-force winds. Glasgow officials said high winds and rain had forced them to cancel traditional Hogmanay New Year’s celebrations in the Scottish city. Edinburgh at the last minute also canceled its Hogmanay party, which was to be headlined by the Pet Shop Boys.

In Belgium, several fireworks displays were canceled after two party tents set up for celebrations in northern Belgium blew away on Saturday. No official celebrations were planned in Paris, but thousands were expected to congregate around the city’s most famous avenue, the Champs-Elysees, to welcome 2007.

In the Philippines, where many believe noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune, police threatened to arrest anyone setting off oversized firecrackers. Despite the warning, 284 people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire in the two weeks before New Year’s Day, a 75 percent rise from last year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

In Japan, thousands climbed mountains, some scaling famed Mount Fuji, to greet the first dawn of the year. Police expected crowds at the summits to reach 15,000. Many Japanese, ranging from families with children to elderly couples, usually start climbing at night so they can reach the top in time for sunrise. Police anticipated 95 million visitors to the country’s major Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines 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 take part.

The South African city of Cape Town prepared to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a show by the Cape Minstrels.