Australians and New Zealanders preparing to be among first nations to ring in 2024 with fireworks

AP , Sunday 31 Dec 2023

Australians and New Zealanders are making final preparations on New Year’s Eve to become among the first nations to ring in 2024 as ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza cast a pall over celebrations and heightened tensions across parts of the world.

Fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbour as early New Year celebrations begin in Sydney, Australia,
Fireworks explode over the Sydney Harbour as early New Year celebrations begin in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. AP

 

Rain in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland is expected to ease by midnight when downtown Sky Tower, the country’s tallest structure, erupts with fireworks as the centerpiece of a spectacular annual light show.

Two hours later in neighboring Australia, the Sydney Harbor Bridge will become the focal point of a renowned midnight fireworks display and light show viewed annually by around 425 million people worldwide, according to city authorities.

More police than ever have been deployed throughout Sydney to ensure safety as more than 1 million people — equivalent to one in five of the city’s population — converge on the harbor waterfront for the best available views, state government authorities said in a statement.

Many revelers have been camping at the best vantage points since Sunday morning.

The waterfront has been the scene of heated pro-Palestinian protests after the sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated in the colors of the Israeli flag. 

In New York’s Times Square, officials and party organizers say they are prepared to welcome crowds of revelers and ensure their safety.

At a security briefing Friday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said there were “no specific threats” to the annual New Year’s Eve bash, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the heart of midtown Manhattan.

The celebrity-filled event will include live performances from Flo Rida, Megan Thee Stallion, and LL Cool J, as well as televised appearances from Cardi B and others. Organizers said in-person attendance is expected to return to pre-COVID levels, even as foot traffic around Times Square remains down slightly since the pandemic.

Amid near-daily protests in New York sparked by the Israeli war on Gaza, police said they would expand the security perimeter around the party, creating a “buffer zone” that will allow them to head off potential demonstrations.

“We will be out here with our canines, on horseback, our helicopters, our boats,” Adams said. Officials will also monitor protests with drones, he said. “But as we saw last year, after having no specific threats, we get a threat.”

During last year’s New Year’s Eve party, a machete-wielding man attacked three police officers a few blocks from Times Square.

Security will also be heightened across France on Sunday, with 90,000 law enforcement officers set to be deployed, domestic intelligence chief Céline Berthon said Friday.

Of those, 6,000 will be in Paris, where French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said over 1.5 million people are expected to attend celebrations on the Champs-Elysees.

Speaking at a press conference, Darmanin cited a “very high terrorist threat” because, in part, of “what is happening in Israel and Palestine,” referring to the Israeli war on Gaza.

Darmanin said that police for the first time will be able to use drones as part of security work and that tens of thousands of firefighters and 5,000 soldiers would also be deployed.

New Year’s Eve celebrations in the French capital will center on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, including DJ sets, fireworks, and video projections on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting “changes in the city and faces of the Games,” according to the press service of the City of Paris. Other planned events include “the largest Mexican wave ever performed” and a “giant karaoke.” Local authorities have instituted a ban on the sale of alcohol on and around the Champs Elysees on New Year’s Eve, and the public will not be able to access the area with glass bottles and flasks.

The security challenge ahead of the Olympics was highlighted when a tourist was killed in a knife attack near the Eiffel Tower on Dec. 2. Large-scale attacks — such as that at the Bataclan in 2015, when Islamic extremists invaded the music hall and shot up cafe terraces, killing 130 people — also loom in memory.

The knife attack raised concern in France and abroad about security for the Games that begin July 26, in just under seven months. But law enforcement officials appear eager to show off a security-ready Paris.

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, the government has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.

In an overnight televised message, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar urged Pakistanis to “show solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza” by beginning the new year with simplicity.

Kakar said Muslims across the world were saddened over Israel’s attacks on Gaza that resulted in the killings of thousands of innocent people.

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