Nations of the world celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks, music, religious ceremonies
Revellers around the globe are bidding a weary farewell to a 2018 filled with challenges to many of the world’s most basic institutions, including politics, trade, alliances and religion.
Here’s a look at how people are ushering in the new year:
Despite undergoing maintenance, Big Ben still sounded in the new year in London. (AP: Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britons ushered in the new year with the familiar chimes of Big Ben, even though the world-famous clock has been disconnected for more than a year because of a conservation project.
Parliament announced last week the clock’s massive bell would sound to mark the new year with the help of a specially built electric mechanism to power the hammer, which weighs about 200 kilograms.
The clock mechanism, which has kept time since 1859, has been dismantled as part of the renovation work.
New Year’s Eve without Big Ben would be positively un-British. The comforting chimes are used by TV and radio stations throughout Britain to herald the moment of transition from the old to the new year.
The focal point of London’s usually rowdy celebrations was a fireworks display on the Victoria Embankment at the side of the River Thames.
Parisians and tourists gathered on the Champs-Elysees to celebrate New Year’s Eve under heavy security.
Anti-government protesters from the yellow vest movement have issued calls on social media for “festive” demonstrations on the famous avenue.
Paris police set up a security perimeter in the area, with bag searches, traffic restrictions and a ban on alcohol. The Interior Ministry said that the heavy security measures were needed because of a “high terrorist threat” and concerns about “non-declared protests”.
President Emmanuel Macron gave his traditional New Year address to briefly lay out his priorities for 2019, as some protesters — angry over high taxes and his pro-business policies — planned to continue their demonstrations in coming weeks.
Ahead of midnight, a light show illustrating the theme of brotherhood took place on the Arc de Triomphe monument at the top of the Champs-Elysees.
About 1,300 officers were deployed throughout Berlin to monitor celebrations. (AP: Michael Sohn)
Tens of thousands of people celebrated the start of 2019 at Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate.
The annual New Year celebrations took place amid tight security, with about 1,300 officers deployed throughout the heart of the German capital and revellers banned from taking fireworks, bottles or large bags into the fenced-off party zone.
By midnight, Berlin police reported fewer incidents than in previous years.
New Year’s Eve is not celebrated widely in mainland China, where the lunar new year in February is a more important holiday, but countdown events were being held in major cities and some of the faithful headed to Buddhist temples for bell-ringing and prayers.
The city of Beijing was holding 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.
Additional police were deployed in parts of Shanghai, where a New Year’s Eve stampede in 2014 killed 36 people.
In Beijing, outdoor revellers had to brave temperatures well below freezing.
President Xi Jingping, in a message broadcast at the top of the evening news, outlined the country’s achievements over the past year and said that by hosting a series of multinational meetings in 2018, “we have put forward China’s proposals and sent out China’s voice”.
In Hong Kong, festive lights on the city’s iconic skyscrapers provided the backdrop for a fireworks, music and light show over Victoria Harbour on a chilly evening.
About 300,000 people were expected to line the waterfront.
Leader Kim Jong-un will keep North Korea watchers busy on New Year’s Day, when he is expected to give his annual address laying out the country’s priorities for the year ahead.
The speech is often the best gauge of what the North Korean leadership is focused on and what tone it will take in its dealings with the outside world.
Mr Kim’s speech will be parsed carefully for clues about his thinking on denuclearisation talks with Washington and a second summit with US President Donald Trump, relations with South Korea, and North Korea’s efforts to get out from under international sanctions as it tries to build its domestic economy.
In his New Year’s speech this past year, Mr Kim proposed talks with South Korea to reduce tensions and said the North would be willing to participate in South Korea’s Winter Olympics, setting off a series of summits with the South and the US.
In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, tens of thousands gathered around Sky Tower as fireworks exploded from the top of the 328-metre structure.
Across the southern hemisphere nation, thousands took to beaches and streets, becoming the first major nation in the world to usher in 2019.
Fireworks boomed and crackled above city centres and harbours.
An estimated one billion people were expected to watch Sydney’s 2019 fireworks on television. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)
An estimated 1 million people crowded Sydney Harbour as Australia’s largest city rang in the new year with a spectacular, soul-tinged fireworks celebration.
One of the most complex displays in Australia’s history included gold, purple and silver fireworks pulsating to the tune of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, made famous by Aretha Franklin, who died in August.
The show used 8.5 tonnes of fireworks and featured more than 100,000 pyrotechnic effects.
Earlier, a thunderstorm drenched tens of thousands of people as they gathered for the traditional display, creating a show of its own with dozens of lightning strikes.
Police said they took precautions to prevent any terrorist attack, but assured revellers there was no specific threat.
More than 1 billion people around the world were expected to watch the fireworks on television.
In Melbourne, 14 tonnes of fireworks deployed on the ground and on roofs of 22 buildings produced special effects including flying dragons.
In Brisbane, an estimated 85,000 people watched as fireworks exploded from five barges moored on the Brisbane River.
Thousands of Buddhists in Seoul are placing new year’s wishes on temple walls. (AP: Ahn Young-joon)
After an eventful year that saw three inter-Korean summits and the easing of tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program, South Koreans enter 2019 with hopes that the hard-won detente will expand into a stable peace.
Thousands of South Koreans were expected to fill the streets of the capital, Seoul, for a traditional bell-tolling ceremony near City Hall to usher in the new year.
Dignitaries picked to ring the old Bosingak bell at midnight include famous surgeon Lee Guk-jong, who successfully operated on a North Korean soldier who escaped to South Korea in 2017 in a hail of bullets fired by his comrades.
Elsewhere, about 10,000 people were expected to attend the tolling of a “peace bell” at Imjingak, a pavilion near the border with North Korea.
Worshippers pray as they take turns sitting in coffins at the Takien Temple in suburban Bangkok.
(AP: Sakchai lalit)
While many celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks, hundreds of Thais travelled 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.
Participants held flowers and incense in their hands as monks covered them with pink sheets and chanted prayers for the dead.
“It wasn’t scary or anything. It is our belief that it will help us get rid of bad luck and bring good fortune to our life,” Busaba Yookong, who came to the temple with her family, said.
Bangkok is filled with modern glitzy malls and high-rise buildings, but superstitious beliefs still hold sway in many aspects of Thai society.
Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur was lit in a sea of red as the Petronas towers provided the focal point for the city’s annual celebrations.
The country heads into 2019 with an unprecedented political future, as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad turns 94 in July, the first time the country will not have been ruled by the Barisan National coalition for a full calendar year in over 60 years.
A number of investigations ranging from Singapore, the United States and Malaysia are looking into the multi-billion dollar levels of graft that is alleged to have happened under the watch of former prime minister Najib Razak as part of the 1MDB scandal.
Dr Mohamad has said he would eventually hand over power to his coalition partner Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed under colonial-era sodomy laws in 2015.
He has since been freed and been given a pardon.
As Pakistani cities erupt into song and dance across the country, a similar kind of release isn’t going to greet Muslims and non-Muslims.
Tensions flared in 2018 when Asia Bibi, a Christian, was saved from a death sentence after being charged under the country’s blasphemy laws after an altercation erupted from two female farm workers who refused to drink from her water container.
She was released in November, but was placed under police protection as her family sought to find a country to lodge an asylum application.
Her lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, fled to the Netherlands after the case for his safety, but then made a decision in December to return and defend her.
Currently, the Supreme Court still may review a petition against Ms Bibi.
Cricketer-turned-PM Imran Khan faces an uphill battle as there is no sign of Pakistan’s hard-line religious fervour abating anytime soon, despite him calling for calm after the decision.
“Today I want to tell my nation do not listen to these people who are trying to incite you,” Mr Khan said.
“They are inciting you for their own political gain, you should not get trapped by them for the sake of the country, they are doing no service to Islam.”
Many took advantage of the 29 degree weather watching the fireworks from the beach. (AP: Leo Correa)
More than 2 million people celebrated the new year on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.
A 14-minute fireworks display ushered Brazil into 2019 only hours before far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro will be sworn in as president.
Brazilians took advantage of the warm night with many taking a dip in the water as the fireworks expoded across the water.
Security will be beefed up for 2019’s celebrations, this time with a drone added to the mix. (AP: Seth Wenig)
Musicians Snoop Dogg, Sting and Christina Aguilera welcomed 2019 in New York’s packed Times Square along with revellers from around the world who had come to see the traditional crystal ball drop.
The celebration took place under tight security. Partygoers were checked for weapons and then herded into pens, ringed by metal barricades, where they waited for the stroke of midnight.
Drenching rain forced police to scrap plans to fly a drone to help keep watch over the crowd.
Revellers paid up to $10 for plastic ponchos trying to stay dry. Umbrellas were banned for security reasons.
The Philippines has launched a tough crackdown on illegal fireworks which has seen 50 injuries in the last 10 days. (Flickr: Sumarie Slabber)
Dozens of people were injured ahead of New Year’s Eve, when many across the Philippines set off powerful firecrackers in one of Asia’s most violent celebrations despite a government scare campaign and threats of arrests.
The Department of Health said it had recorded more than 50 firecracker-caused injuries in the last 10 days, which was expected to increase overnight when Filipinos ushered in 2019 with a bang.
Although still a concern, the figure was significantly lower than a year ago, partly because fewer Filipinos have purchased firecrackers due to hard economic times.
Officials have urged centralised fireworks displays to discourage wild and sometimes fatal merry-making.
The notorious tradition, worsened by celebratory gunfire that turns deadly, stems from a Chinese-influenced belief that noise drives away evil and misfortune.
Kiribati was the first country in the world to have 2018’s last sunset. (Reuters: David Gray, file)
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 hours before midnight in London.
Much of the nation’s land mass, occupied by 110,000 people, is endangered by rising seas which have inundated coastal villages.
The rising oceans have turned fresh water sources brackish, imperilling communities and raising doubts the nation will exist at the next new year.
Former president Anote Tong said the only future for Kiribati may be mass migration.
The new year was welcomed in the capital, Tarawa, with church services and mostly quiet private celebrations.