World welcomes New Year

Hundreds of thousands of revellers flooded New York’s Times Square to watch the famed crystal ball as it dropped to mark the New Year.

It was a scene repeated, with some variations, around the world as millions cheered impressive fireworks celebrations while others saw 2006 capped with bombings and death.

Preparations for the Times Square countdown had begun days in advance, complete with the cheering and the kisses. Partygoers, projected to reach a million, were in high spirits, cheering and joking in the unseasonably warm evening. The New York festivities include a star-studded line-up, including performances by singers Christina Aguilera and Toni Braxton, rap group Three 6 Mafia and country band Rascal Flatts.

Security was tight in and around Times Square and spectators passed through police checkpoints while bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the crowd. Texas band Radiant kicked off the event, when the famously flashy New Year’s Eve ball was raised to the top of a flagpole.

Across the globe, the countdown to the New Year was marked, in parts, with a combination of joy, tears, prayers and hopes.

In Rio de Janeiro, nearly 21,000 police officers fanned out across the Brazilian city, many patrolling impoverished slums ruled by gangs, to guarantee the safety of tourists and revellers at a huge New Year’s Eve bash on the famed Copacabana beach. The show of force comes after gang attacks left 19 dead last week in Rio.

In Sydney, fireworks exploded over Harbour Bridge as a million onlookers celebrated the New Year. The display was to celebrate the bridge’s 75th anniversary.

Hundreds of thousands of others cheered in London as Big Ben rang in 2007. The chimes were relayed by sound systems along the River Thames and the onlookers lined its banks near the Houses of Parliament to watch a light show countdown projected on to the 443ft London Eye wheel. The countdown was followed by a 10-minute fireworks display “big enough and loud enough to be seen … all over the capital”, mayor Ken Livingstone said.

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

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 Romania and Bulgaria, midnight marked a historic milestone, with the two countries becoming the newest members of the European Union. 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, an outdoor concert that was to feature soul singer Beverley Knight and rock band The Thrills was called off because of the threat of gale-force winds. In Glasgow high winds and rain had forced officials to cancel traditional Hogmanay New Year’s celebrations.

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 celebrations drive away evil and misfortune, police threatened to arrest anyone setting off oversized firecrackers.

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.

In Iraq, New Year’s Eve was another day marked by death, following the burial of executed former leader Saddam Hussein. The US military announced the death of a US soldier in Iraq, raising to 3,000 the American death toll in the country since the war began.