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Offbeat

In pictures: here’s how the world has been welcoming 2019, with gaffes, fireworks, coffins, bells and boxing

  • Sydney put on dazzling 2019 fireworks, but got the year wrong
  • Pyrotechnics and prayers are a common feature of celebrations – but in Thailand people got into coffins
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 2:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2019, 1:35pm

Revellers around the globe are bidding a weary farewell to an unsettling year 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 have been ushering in 2019 around the world.

Hong Kong welcomes 2019 with 340,000 revellers lining Victoria Harbour

Kiribati

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.

The new year was welcomed in the capital, Tarawa, with church services and mostly quiet private celebrations.

New Zealand

In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, tens of thousands gathered around Sky Tower as fireworks exploded from the top of the 328-meter 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.

Australia

The spectacular fireworks show on Sydney’s harbour that rang in 2019 and dazzled spectators around the world was picture perfect, except for one element - it got the year wrong.

More than 1.5 million people packed the harbour 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.”

Organisers the City of Sydney, 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 organise an event of this size and scale,” the fireworks’ executive producer Anna McInerney told reporters in Sydney Tuesday.

“Obviously we weren’t pleased, but look you move on, you just get back to doing the show.”

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.

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.

United Nations

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a bleak New Year’s message that called climate change an existential threat and warned that “it’s time to seize our last best chance.”

He noted growing intolerance, geo-political divisions and inequality, resulting in people “questioning a world in which a handful of people hold the same wealth as half of humanity.”

“But there are also reasons for hope,” he said. “As we begin this New Year, let’s resolve to confront threats, defend human dignity and build a better future – together.”

South Korea

After an eventful year that saw three inter-Korean summits and the easing of tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programme, South Koreans enter 2019 with hopes that the hard-won detente will expand into a stable peace.

Thousands of South Koreans filled the streets of the capital, Seoul, for a traditional bell-tolling ceremony near City Hall to usher in the new year.

Elsewhere, thousands attended the tolling of a “peace bell” at Imjingak, a pavilion near the border with North Korea.

North Korea

Leader Kim Jong-un kept North Korea watchers busy on New Year’s Day, when he gave his annual address laying out the country’s priorities for the year ahead.

Kim said North Korea could consider a change of approach if the US maintains its sanctions on the nuclear-armed country, after 12 months of diplomatic rapprochement.

“If the US does not keep its promise made in front of the whole world... and insists on sanctions and pressures on our republic,” Kim said.

“We may be left with no choice but to consider a new way to safeguard our sovereignty and interests”.

Kim was referring to his summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, when he said he had “fruitful talks” and “exchanged constructive ideas”.

Hong Kong

At least 340,000 people gathered on either side of Victoria Harbour to watch a 10-minute synchronised “pyromusical” of fireworks, pyrotechnics, lights and music, while countdown celebrations were held on the streets and in malls across commercial and tourist haunts such as Causeway Bay, Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui.

Mainland China

New Year’s Eve isn’t celebrated widely in mainland China, but countdown events were being held in major cities and some of the faithful headed to Buddhist temples for bell-ringing and prayers.

President Xi Jinping, 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”.

Thailand

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 – symbolising death and rebirth – helps rid them of bad luck and allows them to be born again for a fresh start in the new year.

Philippines

Dozens of people were injured by firecrackers 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.

Japan

Japanese welcomed the New Year by pounding mochi rice dumplings and with a traditional visit to a nearby temple or shrine.

But some 30,000 people at Saitama Super Arena saw in 2019 with Floyd Mayweather.

The American boxing legend soundly defeated his opponent, Japanese kick-boxer Tenshin Nasukawa, in the first round of what was billed as three rounds of entertainment with no official record, meaning both fighters still retain their undefeated tallies.

United Arab Emirates

Fireworks crackled at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, as hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered downtown to watch the spectacular display.

The fireworks replaced last year’s somewhat anticlimactic LED lightshow that ran down the facade of the 828-metre-tall (2,716 feet) tower.

Cafes and restaurants with a view of the Burj Khalifa charge a premium for their locale on New Year’s Eve. Casual sandwich chain Pret a Manger, for example, charged US$817 for a table of four. That price gets you hot and cold drinks and some canapes. For burgers near the action, fast food chain Five Guys charged US$408 per person for unlimited burgers, hotdogs, fries, milkshakes and soda.

Elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates, the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah attempted to set a new Guinness World Record with the longest straight-line display of fireworks reaching 11km.

France

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, a ban on alcohol and traffic restrictions. The Interior Ministry said Sunday that the heavy security measures are 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 plan 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.

Britain

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 that 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 200kg. 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 fireworks display on the Victoria Embankment at the side of the River Thames. Police warned people without a ticket for the sold-out event to make other celebration plans.

United States

A drenching rain couldn’t keep crowds from packing Times Square for the traditional crystal ball drop and a string of star performances.

Christina Aguilera pumped up the crowd, performing in a snow-white dress and coat while partygoers danced in their rain ponchos.

Bebe Rexha sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” just before the midnight 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.

But the weather forced police to scrap plans to fly a drone to help keep watch over the crowd.

Revellers were paying up to US$10 for plastic ponchos trying to stay dry. Umbrellas were banned for security reasons.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse