By Agence France Press and the Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP/AP) – Revelers welcomed 2019 on Tuesday with fireworks displays and festivities as a celebratory wave swept westward across the globe from Asia to Europe and the Americas, putting to bed a tumultuous 2018.
In Rio de Janeiro, the city’s famed hilltop Christ the Redeemer statue briefly came to colorful 3D life through light projections as it peered over Copacabana Beach, where pyrotechnics lit up more than two million white-clad Brazilians dancing to free concerts.
The beach was lit up with hundreds of thousands of mobile phone screens as the massive crowd recorded the fireworks spectacle.
New York was to follow with its iconic Times Square Ball drop, the highly mediatized epicenter of US jubilation.
The global partying had kicked off on Sydney’s waterfront with the Australian city’s biggest-ever fireworks display. More than 1.5 million people packed the harbor front of Australia’s largest city to watch the extravaganza, and noticed a signage beamed onto one of the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s pylons had the words “Happy New Year 2018!”
Photos of the typo were shared on social media sites.
“According to Sydney, it’s still 2018, so I’m going back to bed,” one Twitter user quipped.
Another wrote: “Oh will this horrible year never end.”
Organizers who invested huge resources and time into planning one of the world’s first New Year’s parties, saw the funny side of the mistake.
“We just laughed about it, you know these things happen as we said, it takes 15 months to organize an event of this size and scale,” the fireworks’ executive producer Anna McInerney told reporters in Sydney Tuesday.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands packed streets along Victoria Harbour for a spectacular 10-minute show that illuminated the night.
In Jakarta, Indonesia more than 500 couples tied the knot in a free, mass wedding organized by the government to mark the arrival of a new year.
Fireworks shows, however, were cancelled out of respect for victims of a December 22 tsunami that killed more than 400 people.
In Japan, locals flocked to temples to ring in 2019, as US boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather came out of retirement to beat Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in a multi-million-dollar “exhibition” bout outside Tokyo.
First New Year’s eve
In Dubai, fireworks lit up the sky over the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, to the delight of onlookers, while nearby Ras al-Khaima sought to enter the Guinness Book of Records with the world’s longest fireworks show.
Almost eight years into Syria’s civil war, people in Damascus celebrated their first New Year’s Eve since regime forces expelled the last rebels and jihadists from the capital’s suburbs earlier this year.
Dozens of families headed to restaurants and bars in the Old City. Among them, Kinda Haddad, a university student, had decided to leave home to celebrate for the first time in years.
“This is the first time we chose the Bab Touma area to go out,” the 24-year-old said, referring to an area in the Old City filled with restaurants and bars.
Russia saw in the New Year over several time zones. Concerts and light shows featured in Moscow city parks, and more than 1,000 ice rinks opened for merrymakers.
But a tower block gas explosion that killed at least four people cast a shadow over festivities.
In Paris, “fraternity”-themed fireworks and a light show were held on the Champs-Elysees, with a few “yellow vest” anti-government protesters mingling joyfully with the 300,000-strong crowd.
In Berlin, music lovers partied at the Brandenburg Gate.
While many celebrated New Year’s Eve with fireworks, hundreds of Thais traveled to Takien Temple in a suburb of Bangkok to lie inside coffins for traditional funeral rituals.
Participants believe the ceremony — symbolizing death and rebirth — helps rid them of bad luck and allows them to be born again for a fresh start in the New Year.
New Year’s Eve isn’t celebrated widely in mainland China, where the lunar New Year in February is a more important holiday. But countdown events were held in major cities, and some of the faithful headed to Buddhist temples for bell-ringing and prayers.
Beijing held a gala with VIP guests at the main site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The event looked ahead to the 2022 Winter Games, which also will be held in the Chinese capital.
First to welcome 2019
The Pacific island nation of Kiribati was the first in the world to welcome the New Year, greeting 2019 with muted celebrations after spending 2018 on the front line of the battle against climate change.
Kiribati is made up of low-lying atolls along the equator which intersect three time zones, the first of which sees the New Year 14 hours before midnight in London.
Much of the nation’s land mass, occupied by 110,000 people, is endangered by rising seas that have inundated coastal villages. The rising oceans have turned fresh water sources brackish, imperiling communities and raising doubts the nation will exist at the next New Year.
London ushered in the New Year by celebrating its relationship with Europe, despite Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. Mayor Sadiq Khan said the capital would remain “outward looking” after Brexit.
In some African countries, election considerations shadowed New Year revelry.
Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo were eschewing the partying to count votes from a presidential election that was held Sunday.
In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari promised a free and fair election in 2019.
Ivory Coast leader Alassane Ouattara vowed to create a new, independent, electoral commission for polls planned for 2020.
Issues to watch
As the world celebrates, many are wondering whether the turmoil witnessed in 2018 will spill over into the next year.
The political wrangling in Westminster over Brexit was one of the key stories of this year, with a resolution yet to be reached ahead of Britain’s scheduled March 29 departure.
US President Donald Trump dominated headlines in 2018, ramping up a trade war with China, quitting the Iran nuclear deal, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and meeting his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization will remain a major political and security issue into next year, as will Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s reassertion of control after Trump’s shock announcement of a US troop withdrawal from the country.
The war in Yemen, which has killed about 10,000 people since 2014 and left some 20 million at risk of starvation, could take a crucial turn in 2019 after a ceasefire went into effect in mid-December.
Numerous countries go to the polls in the coming year, including Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa.