Revelers counted down to midnight on New Year’s Eve across the Middle East, Africa and Europe, where fireworks and festive lights offered some a hopeful start to 2024, even whether ongoing conflicts around the world have raised security concerns that have led to the reduction or even cancellation of festivities.
Sydney and Auckland were among the first major cities in the world to celebrate the year 2024. Revelers cheered as fireworks lit up the sky above the Australian metropolis’ harbor and the tallest structure in the New Zealand, the Sky Tower.
In Australia, at the stroke of midnight, a 12-minute fireworks display focused on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. More than a million people, the equivalent of one in five city residents, watched the spectacle from the shore and boats in the harbor.
The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as increased tensions in parts of the world, are affecting New Year’s Eve celebrations in multiple ways this year. Many cities have implemented additional safety measures and others have canceled New Year’s Eve events altogether.
In Asia, fireworks exploded up and down the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, as clocks struck midnight in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
China celebrated the new year relatively quietly, with most major cities banning fireworks over safety and pollution concerns. Still, people gathered and performers danced in colorful costumes in Beijing, while a crowd released greeting balloons in Chongqing. In his New Year speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country would focus on creating momentum for economic recovery in 2024 and promised that China would “surely be reunified” with Taiwan.
In Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, the mood was high as revelers gathered to watch fireworks from the bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 skyscraper, as well as concerts and other events organized throughout the city.
In India, thousands of revelers from the financial hub of Mumbai gathered on a bustling promenade to watch the sunset over the Arabian Sea. In New Delhi, fireworks sparked fears that the capital – already infamous for its poor air quality – would be blanketed in toxic haze on the first morning of the new year.
In Japan, temple bells rang out across the country as people gathered at shrines and temples to welcome the new year.
The human cost of war
At the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled that 2023 was a year marked by war during the traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He prayed 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 conflicts, how many deaths and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty,” the pontiff said.
In Russia, the country’s military actions in Ukraine have overshadowed year-end celebrations, with the usual fireworks displays and concerts in Moscow’s Red Square canceled, as they were last year.
After the bombing of the center of the Russian border town of Belgorod left 24 people dead on Saturday, some local Russian authorities also canceled their usual fireworks displays, including in Vladivostok. Millions of people across Russia were expected to listen to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pre-recorded New Year’s speech, in which he said no force could divide Russians and stop the country’s development .
Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip killed at least 35 people on Sunday, hospital officials said, as fighting raged in the small enclave a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war would continue for “several more months”, resisting international calls for a ceasefire.
Skyscrapers in Tel Aviv were lit up yellow to call for the release of hostages held by Palestinian militants in Gaza for more than 80 days.
In Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, the government banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians.
In Iraq, a Christmas tree was decorated with Palestinian flags and symbolic bodies in burial shrouds, placed next to a freedom monument in central Baghdad. Many Christians in Iraq canceled this year’s festivities in solidarity with Gaza and chose to limit their celebrations to prayers and rituals.
Vigilance in New York and Europe
In New York, authorities and party organizers say they are ready to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of revelers who are expected to invade Times Square, in the heart of Manhattan.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said there was “no specific threat” to the New Year’s celebrations, which will include concerts by Flo Rida, Megan Thee Stallion and LL Cool J, as well as appearances television shows by Cardi B, among others.
Police said they would widen the security perimeter around the party, creating a “buffer zone” that would allow them to prevent possible protests. During last year’s party, a man armed with a machete attacked three police officers a few blocks in Times Square.
Security was also tightened in European cities on Sunday.
German authorities say they have arrested three more people in connection with a threatened New Year’s attack by Islamic extremists on Cologne’s famous cathedral.
In Berlin, around 4,500 police officers are expected to maintain order and prevent riots like a year ago. Police in the German capital have banned the traditional use of firecrackers on several city streets. They also banned a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Neukölln neighborhood, which has been the scene of several pro-Palestinian riots.
In Paris, more than 1.5 million people were expected to attend celebrations on the Champs-Élysées, and around 90,000 law enforcement officers would be deployed across the country, senior officials said. Celebrations in the French capital will focus on the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, including DJs, fireworks and video screenings on the Arc de Triomphe.