New Year revelers get ready for better times in 2010

By Rohan Sullivan, AP
Thursday, December 31, 2009

World readies for 2010

SYDNEY — Under explosive bursts of crimson, purple and blue, more than 1 million New Year revelers in Sydney got one of the world’s biggest parties started Thursday — bidding farewell to the tough year that was 2009 and welcoming a new decade.

As the family-friendly, pre-midnight fireworks show illuminated Australia’s largest city, preparations were under way across the world for pyrotechnics, parties and prayers in the final countdown to herald the end of the period dubbed “the Noughties.”

The mood of celebrations was tempered in some places by the effects of the financial downturn, which bit hard in 2009, sending economies into recession, causing millions to lose their jobs and home foreclosures to rise dramatically in some countries.

There were also reminders of threats and the fight against terrorism that during the decade led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rising militant violence in Pakistan.

The U.S. Embassy in Indonesia warned of a possible terrorist attack on the resort island of Bali on New Year’s Eve, citing information from the island’s governor — although local security officials said Thursday they were unaware of a threat. The e-mail warning to U.S. citizens said predominantly Muslim Indonesia’s counterterrorism efforts have been partly successful in recent years, but violent extremists continue to pose a deadly threat.

In Sydney, crowds — organizers expected more than 1.5 million people — thronged to harborside parks and public places for the annual fireworks extravaganza over the landmark harbor bridge and opera house. The twin shows, one at 9 p.m. and a bigger one at midnight, are the centerpiece of Australia’s celebrations that generates some of the most striking images from a night of revelry across the globe.

The mood was jubilant, though the economic crisis may mean 2009 was a year one that many people are glad to put behind them.

“I think 2010 will be a good year — you can never tell, but I think so,” said Marek Kiera, a Sydney property investor who watched interest rates tumble amid the global financial crisis.

“We have invested so much in something that may go up in value,” said Kiera, who went with his wife and three young children to a park in inner Sydney to watch the fireworks show. “Hopefully there will be a boom like in the late ’80s, when properties doubled in value.”

Smaller fireworks displays and partying were planned across Australia and the South Pacific, the first region to greet each new day because of its proximity to the International Date Line.

In New Zealand, dance parties, bands and fireworks were planned in the main cities. In the capital, Wellington, celebrations included a display by world unicycle games competitors.

Asia was be partying, too, though probably not as hard as most of Europe and the Americas. The world’s most populous nation, 1.3-billion-strong China, uses a different calendar that will mark the new year in February. Islamic nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan also use a different calendar.

In the Philippines, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said hundreds of people were injured by firecrackers and celebratory gunfire during New Year’s celebrations.

Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge firecrackers and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest.

In Beijing, President Hu Jintao wished viewers a happy new year in his end-of-the-year speech broadcast on China Central Television. In Shanghai, some people paid 518 yuan ($75) to ring the bell at the Longhua Temple at midnight and wish for luck in the new year. In Chinese, saying “518″ sounds like the phrase “I want prosperity.”

Fireworks displays were planned to illuminate Hong Kong’s crowded skyline, high-glitz parties were planned in Singapore and thousands gathered at Indonesia’s national monument in the capital, Jakarta, for a fireworks show.

Millions of Japanese were to welcome the new year by flocking to shrines to pray for good fortune in 2010.

In Turkey, Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said authorities were deploying around 2,000 police officers around Taksim Square to prevent pickpockets and the molestation of women that have marred New Year celebrations in the past. Some officers would be under cover, disguised as street vendors or “even in Santa Claus dress,” Guler said.

Firecrackers were already exploding across the Netherlands early Thursday on the only day of the year the Dutch are allowed to set off fireworks. Most such shows are do-it-yourself affairs where families spill onto the street in front of their homes and light strings of fire crackers and other fireworks.

Many Dutch families also fire up their deep-fat frying pans on New Year’s Eve to cook the traditional treat of oliebollen — deep-fried balls of dough laced with raisins and dusted with icing sugar.

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Cara Anna in Beijing, and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this story.

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