Sun, Jan 02, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Fireworks in Sydney, ball drop in NY ring in 2011

AP, NEW YORK

Nearly 1 million revelers crowded New York’s Times Square to witness the traditional dazzling ball drop, fireworks lit up Australia’s Sydney Harbor and communist Vietnam held a rare Western-style countdown to the new year as the world ushered in 2011.

In Europe, Greeks, Irish and Spaniards partied through the night to help put a year of economic woe behind them, and Japanese revelers released balloons carrying notes with people’s hopes and dreams.

In New York, a crystal ball with 32,000 lights descended at midnight, setting off a wild and noisy confetti-filled New Year’s celebration — the country’s largest — at the crossroads of the world. And it all happened just days after a debilitating blizzard paralyzed the city and the surrounding area.

As rain clouds cleared over in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square, around 50,000 people, many sporting large, brightly colored wigs, gathered to take part in Las Uvas, or The Grapes, a tradition in which people eat a grape for each of the 12 chimes of midnight.

Chewing and swallowing the grapes to each tolling of a bell is supposed to bring good luck, while cheating is frowned upon and revelers believe it brings misfortune.

Police had painstakingly screened all those arriving to make sure drinks and bottles were left behind to avoid injury in the crowded square, so many quickly downed their sparkling cava wine before joining the animated party.

“It’s an annual tradition, and I’m here to make my wishes for the new year. If you eat the grapes your wishes will come true,” beautician Anita Vargas said.

As the 12th grape was swallowed, the skies above most Spanish cities lit up with fireworks that slowly filled the air with smoke and the smell of gunpowder.

Last year was a grim year for the EU, with Greece and Ireland needing bailouts and countries such as Spain and Portugal finding themselves in financial trouble as well.

“Before, we used to go out, celebrate in a restaurant, but the last two years we have had to stay at home,” said Madrid florist Ernestina Blasco, whose husband, a construction worker, is out of work.

In Greece, thousands of people spent the last day of 2010 standing in line at tax offices to pay their road tax or sign up for tax amnesty.

“We can see that the quality of life is being degraded every day,” Athens resident Giorgos Karantzos said. “What can I say? I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

At the stroke of midnight in Cuba, state television broadcast images of troops at Havana’s Morro Castle fort firing 21 salvos of a cannon in honor of the 52d anniversary of former Cuban president Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

In Dubai, the world’s tallest building was awash in fireworks from the base to its needle-like spire nearly 828m above. Sparkling silver rays shot out from the Burj Khalifa in a 10-minute display.

In Rio de Janeiro, more than 2 million people gathered on Copacabana beach’s white sand for 20 minutes of fireworks, music and the unveiling of the logo for the 2016 Olympics. Traffic was shut down along the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares for much of the day in preparation for a party rivaled only by Carnival. Revelers drank and danced to samba played on stages along the 4km beach, and at midnight many waded into the water, jumping over seven waves for good luck.

In France, police were on alert for terror attacks and for celebrations getting out of hand. Rampaging youths typically set fire to scores of vehicles on New Year’s Eve. Frenich Minister of the -Interior Brice Hortefeux said 53,820 police officers were mobilized, 6,000 more than usual.

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