New Year’s Eve celebrations roll across Asia, but wars cast shadow on start of 2024
Revellers across Asia celebrated the countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve with fireworks and brightly lit signs — offering a hopeful start to 2024 for some, even as the globe’s ongoing conflicts raised security concerns and let to muted or even cancelled festivities.
As the clock struck midnight in Australia, more than one million people — a number equivalent to one in five of the city’s residents — watched a 12-minute firework display focused on the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the shore and from boats in the harbour.
“It’s total madness,” said German tourist Janna Thomas, who had waited in line since 7:30 am to secure a prime waterfront location in the Sydney Botanic Garden.
Organisers worldwide have readied for large-scale celebrations despite the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine. In New York City, where there have been near-daily protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war, officials and party organisers said they were prepared to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of revellers who will flood Times Square in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
China celebrated the new calendar year relatively quietly, with most major cities banning fireworks over safety and pollution concerns. Chinese President Xi Jinping said during his New Year address that the country would focus on building momentum for economic recovery in 2024 and pledged China would “surely be reunified” with Taiwan.
In Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, the mood appeared upbeat as revelers gathered for a fireworks show at the bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 skyscraper, as well as at concerts and other events held throughout the city.
In India, thousands of revelers from the financial hub of Mumbai flocked to a bustling promenade to watch the sunset over the Arabian Sea. In New Delhi, fireworks raised concerns that the capital — already infamous for its poor air quality — would be blanketed by a toxic haze on the first morning of the new year.
Temple bells rang out across Japan as people gathered at shrines and temples. At the Tsukiji Temple in Tokyo, visitors were given free hot milk and corn soup as they stood in line to strike a big bell, and a pipe-organ concert was held before a majestic altar.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled 2023 as a year marked by wartime suffering. During his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St Peter’s Square, he offered prayers for “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people and many others.”
“At the end of the year, we will have the courage to ask ourselves how many human lives have been shattered by armed conflict, how many dead and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty,” the pontiff said.
In Russia, the country’s military actions in Ukraine have overshadowed end-of-year celebrations, with the usual fireworks and concert on Moscow’s Red Square cancelled, as last year.
After shelling in the centre of the Russian border city of Belgorod Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across Russia also cancelled their usual firework displays, including in Vladivostok. Millions throughout Russia were expected to have tuned into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s prerecorded address, where he asserted there was no force that could divide Russians and stop the country’s development.
Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip killed at least 35 people Sunday, hospital officials said, as fighting raged across the tiny enclave a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war will continue for “many more months,” resisting international calls for a cease-fire.