The world welcomes the new year with fireworks and prayers News

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Sydney and Auckland are the first major global cities to celebrate the arrival of 2024.

Sydney and Auckland were the first major global cities to welcome 2024.

More than a million revelers celebrated the New Year on Sunday night amid a spectacular fireworks display, lighting up the skies of Australia's Sydney Harbor and New Zealand's tallest building, Auckland's Sky Tower.

The light rain that had persisted throughout the day in Auckland had disappeared by midnight, and the countdown began in front of an illuminated digital screen near the top of the 328-meter (1,076-foot) communications and control tower.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and on the Harbor Bridge as part of New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia [Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image/AP]

As midnight strikes in Sydney, Australia's largest city, a 12-minute fireworks display takes off around the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

More than a million people watched from the beach and boats in the harbour.

The small Pacific island nations of Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati had ushered in the new year an hour early.

In Japan, temple bells rang across the country as people gathered at shrines and temples to welcome the new year.

At Tsukiji Temple in Tokyo, free hot milk and corn soup were served to visitors as they stood in line to ring a large bell, and an organ concert was held in front of a majestic altar.

China celebrated the New Year relatively modestly, with fireworks banned in most major cities due to safety and pollution concerns.

During his New Year's speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country would focus on building momentum for economic recovery in 2024 and pledged that China would “definitely reunite” with Taiwan.

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In Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, there was an atmosphere of excitement as revelers gathered for a fireworks display at the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper. The celebration extended to concerts and various events held throughout the city.

new Year celebreation
People celebrate the New Year, in Taipei, Taiwan, January 1, 2024 [Ann Wang/Reuters]

In India, thousands of revelers flocked from Mumbai, the financial center, to a bustling park to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, fireworks raised concerns about the capital, which suffers from poor air quality, shrouded in a toxic haze on the morning of the first day of the new year.

In London, more than 100,000 revelers gathered on the banks of the River Thames to watch the city's annual fireworks display. The 12-minute display lit up the London Eye and Big Ben. Tens of thousands also came out to watch fireworks in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

A tense end to the year

The New Year celebrations came against the backdrop of the Israeli war on Gaza, which exacerbated tensions in some cities around the world, including Sydney, where more police than ever were deployed to supervise fireworks displays.

The waterfront was the scene of heated pro-Palestinian protests after the sails of the Sydney Opera House were lit in the colors of the Israeli flag after October 7.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke of 2023 as a year filled with the hardships of war.

In his usual Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter's Square, he extended prayers to various populations, including “the suffering Ukrainian people, the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, the Sudanese people, and many others.”

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In Pakistan, the government banned all New Year's Eve celebrations as a form of solidarity with the Palestinians. In a televised message overnight, interim Prime Minister Anwar Haq Kakar urged Pakistanis to “show solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza” by simply starting the new year.

Palestinians in Gaza say they have little hope that 2024 will bring much relief after nearly three months of Israel's military “genocide” campaign that has claimed the lives of nearly 22,000 people.

In Rafah on Gaza's border with Egypt, which has become the largest focal point for Palestinians fleeing other parts of the Strip, people were more busy Sunday trying to find shelter, food and water than thinking about the new year.

“In 2024, I would like to return to the ruins of my house, set up a tent and live there,” said Abu Abdullah Al-Agha, a middle-aged Palestinian man whose home in Khan Yunis was destroyed and who lost his young niece. His nephew in an Israeli air strike.

Woman wearing 2024 glasses bathed in pink light
A woman in Kuala Lumpur celebrates the coming of the new year. Although there were no official fireworks, many people gathered downtown to celebrate [Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on his citizens not to lose sight of the future of their homeland amid the ongoing war in the country.

“We Ukrainians know better than anyone else that a better tomorrow does not come by itself because we defend every tomorrow we have with our own hands,” he said in his video speech on Sunday, in which his wife Olena also appeared alongside him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces elections in March, made only a passing reference in his New Year's address on Sunday to his war in Ukraine, praising his soldiers as heroes, but mostly emphasizing unity and common resolve.

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Russia's end-of-year celebrations, which usually include fireworks and a concert in Moscow's Red Square, have been cancelled, as happened last year.

After bombing in the center of the Russian border city of Belgorod on Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across Russia also canceled their usual fireworks displays, including in the country's far eastern city of Vladivostok.

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