Spectre of war greets New Year

TOKYO: Japanese streamed into temples, Russians packed a frigid Red Square and revellers from around the world crowded the confetti-strewn streets of New York’s Times Square to greet the new year amid global concerns about war and terrorism. 

Just hours before midnight, a suspected member of a separatist group tossed a grenade at a crowded roadside fireworks stall in the southern Philippines, killing at least 10 people and injuring 32 others, an army official said. 

In Mexico, a fire broke out on Tuesday at illegal fireworks stands in the Gulf port city of Veracruz.  

The fire engulfed a city block, killing at least 28 people and injuring 50 others, a city fire official said. 

LOOSENING UP . . . Girls having their bellies decorated to celebrate the New Year in Lucknow, India, on Tuesday. In a traditional society, New Year's is a time for youth to cut loose and enjoy themselves.- AFPpic

As 2003 dawned in Asia, the world’s most populous continent held peaceful celebrations. 

In Japan, millions participated in traditional prayers at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines – many hoping for the prosperity that has eluded the world’s second-largest economy for a decade. 

For five Japanese abducted by North Korean spies in 1978, it was their first chance to spend the holidays at home. 

“It’s like a dream being here,” said Yukiko Hasuike, who was allowed a two-week visit to Japan in October that has become an indefinite stay. Hasuike and her husband, Kaoru, were snatched from her hometown. 

At a Hong Kong football stadium, more than 1,000 Buddhist monks led thousands of people, including Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, in chants for good fortune. 

In Sydney, Australia, crews spent yesterday morning sweeping up after some 450,000 people watched a fireworks display the night before. Security was tight and police reported only the usual arrests for drunkenness and assault. 

TIMES ARE A CHANGIN' . . . The beginning of the New Year is celebrated in New York's Times Square just after the stroke of midnight yesterday.- APpic

Authorities around the world had braced for the threat of terrorism. 

In New York, 2,000 police officers, including rooftop sharpshooters, watched more than 750,000 revellers herald the arrival of 2003 in Times Square.  

The crowd watched a glimmering, 481kg Waterford crystal ball drop and sang along to the Beatles song, All You Need Is Love. 

It was the 99th observance of the annual tradition in a blizzard of red, white and blue confetti. But security was tight. City crews set up Times Square metal-detector checkpoints, sealed manholes and removed nearby mailboxes.  

Pope John Paul II opened 2003 yesterday by issuing a fresh plea for an end to the “fratricidal and senseless” conflict in the Middle East – as well as for peace elsewhere in the world. 

Police were out in force in Moscow’s Red Square, where vast crowds descended on the nation’s capital despite subzero temperatures and jitters caused by terror attacks on a Moscow theatre in October and in Chechnya at the end of the year. Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a sober message to his troubled nation. 

“Russia, a country with a thousand-year history, is meeting its future properly,” Putin said in a televised message broadcast as midnight arrived in each of the country’s 10 time zones. 

In Israel, security was tight but Tel Aviv nightclubs and hotels were packed for New Year’s Eve celebrations, despite the threat of terrorist attacks. 

In Ivory Coast, the government rescinded a shoot-on-sight military curfew for one night. The curfew began on Sept 19 when a failed coup threw the West African nation into civil war. 

Venezuelans held protest rallies in the run-up to the New Year, with tens of thousands gathering on a highway to demand the ouster of President Hugo Chavez while a smaller group gathered to support the embattled leader amid a paralysing national strike that began on Dec 2. 

Chavez said in his New Year’s Eve address that he was prevailing, but he asked Venezuelans to brace for more hardship in 2003. 

American forces stationed in the Gulf region celebrated despite the possibility of a war with Iraq. 

Some 5,000 US sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation were treated to a feast of grilled chicken and steak, hot dogs, baked beans, cookies and sodas.  

The ship has been launching air patrols over southern Iraq since it arrived in the Gulf on Dec 17. 

“Whether or not we are flying, or we are at a steel beach picnic, we are ready,” said Capt John W. Miller, the carrier’s commanding officer. 

There have been jitters across Asia since Oct 12, when bombs tore through two nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali, killing 192 people.  

President Megawati Sukarnoputri struck a gong to ring in the New Year close to the site of the bombings, after prayers for the victims and pledges to fight terrorism. – AP  

  • Another perspective from The Yomiuri Shimbun, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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