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Sydney kicks off New Year's celebrations for 2014

© afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-31

Countries around the Asia-Pacific kicked off celebrations for the 2014 New Year on Tuesday, with 1.5 million people gathering to watch a fireworks display over the famed Opera House in Sydney Harbour.

Seven tonnes of explosives helped light up the waterfront in Australia's biggest city, with fireworks shooting off the Opera House over Harbour Bridge for the first time in more than 10 years.

"They were absolutely fantastic," said US tourist Murphy Robertson of the $5.4 million pyrotechnics show.

"The Opera House was fantastic, but the thing that really got me was the sparks, the golden curtain of sparks going off the bridge," Robertson said.

A record three fireworks displays took place – one at 9pm, another at10:30pm and one at midnight – as part of the show, which Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore had promised would be "bigger than ever".

But it is Dubai that is hoping to break the Guinness World Record for the largest display this year, pledging to set off more than 400,000 fireworks. Kuwait set the bar in 2011 with an hour-long blast of 77,282 fireworks.

Tonga, located near the international dateline, was also one of the first nations to greet 2014, holding a prayer festival that culminated with a bamboo "cannon" fired into the air.

Antarctica was also among the first places to ring in the New Year. Passengers and crew on a ship awaiting rescue after being stuck for a week in ice welcomed the New Year with a specially composed anthem. Footage on YouTube showed them performing a rousing rendition on the top deck of the Akademik Shokalskiy, with the Australasian Antarctic Expedition singing that they were "having fun doing science in Antarctica". The chorus, however, lamented that it was a "bloody great shame we are still stuck here".

Cities across Asia will be next to hail the New Year, with Hong Kong boasting its biggest-ever countdown show. Fireworks will soar from skyscrapers and a one-kilometre line of barges along Victoria Harbour in a "wish upon a star" tourism board show.

Millions in Asia were due to visit shrines and temples through to early morning, paying their first respects of the year and praying for peace or for relatives.

Philippines revelry muted

In Japan, shoppers were busy buying crabs, tuna sashimi and other delicacies to feast in the New Year, with noodle shops doing an especially brisk trade. Eating noodles on New Year's Eve is regarded in Japan as a symbolic act to wish for a long life.

Seoul will ring in 2014 with a ritual clanging of the city's 15th-century bronze bell 33 times, reflecting the ancient custom for marking a new year.

In Singapore, people will flock to the financial district for fireworks while thousands of white spheres will be launched to bob on Marina Bay, holding residents' wishes for 2014.

In areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, celebrations were more subdued.

In Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the November 8 storm, officials were preparing a midnight fireworks display despite the nearly 8,000 dead or missing since the storm.

Aid agencies were organising free concerts or distributing food for the traditional New Year's Eve dinner, an AFP reporter said.

But in the devastated farming village of San Isidro residents are still grappling with the aftermath of the disaster, with 1,400 corpses stacked in black body bags lay in a field, more than seven weeks after the tragedy.

High security in Indonesia

Jakarta has set up 12 city centre stages for performances designed to showcase the vast archipelago's variety of cultural traditions.

But 6,500 police officers will also be out to ensure security amid warnings that extremists in the Muslim-majority nation may target the celebrations, prompting travel warnings from countries including neighbouring Australia.

In Indonesia's Sharia stronghold of Banda Aceh, Islamic police seized thousands of firecrackers and cardboard trumpets after the city administration banned New Year's Eve celebrations for the first time.

In Mumbai, revellers celebrated a court victory over the local police force, which pushed back closing time in bars and restaurants to 5:00 am instead of 1:30 am.
In Rio de Janeiro, authorities are predicting that 2.3 million people – a third of them tourists – will crowd Copacabana Beach for fireworks and pop music.

Major spectaculars will also light up Moscow's Red Square, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and central London when Big Ben chimes at midnight.

An expected one million revellers will gather in New York to mark the stroke of midnight and the traditional New Year's Eve illuminated ball dropping over Times Square.

Cape Town will have a free concert with fireworks and a 3D tribute to the nation’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2013-12-31


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