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Revelry, anxiety ring in new year worldwide

Violence in the Iraqi capital and an underlying threat of terrorism in Britain, Israel and elsewhere provided grim counterpoint to the high spirits greeting 2004.
Fireworks explode over the ancient temple of the Parthenon in Athens during New Year's day celebrations.Yiorgos Karahalis / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Violence in Iraq and an underlying threat of terrorism in Britain, Israel and elsewhere provided a grim global counterpoint to the high spirits greeting 2004.

Around the world, celebration was tempered with caution.

London’s Metropolitan Police said there was a “high state of alert” but there were no specific terrorist threats for New Year’s Eve.

The weather in Britain also took its toll on the festivities. The west coast city of Liverpool rescheduled its fireworks display to Friday because of forecasts of sleet, rain and gale force winds.

But in London, the weather held off and thousands enjoyed a brief but spectacular fireworks show at the London Eye. The huge sightseeing wheel at the edge of the River Thames became a necklace of light against the black sky and then exploded with rockets and multicolored fireworks as the crowd cheered.

In Scotland, Edinburgh canceled its legendary Hogmanay events because of the weather and concerns for public safety. About 100,000 people had been expected to gather for a street party, concert and fireworks.

Elsewhere in Europe, security was tight, but celebrations went forward without major incident:

In Paris, about 4,500 police officers and soldiers patrolled the streets, notably around the Champs-Elysees, the famous tree-lined boulevard in western Paris. The green, pink and red glow of Roman candles lit up the area as roars of delight broke out at midnight.

Several dozen people were arrested overnight after youths clashed with police, smashing shop windows and slightly injuring several officers, Paris police said on Thursday.

Although no serious incidents were recorded, police questioned 113 people and arrested 59. It said gangs of youths had gathered near the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower.

Elsewhere in France, 32 cars were set ablaze in and around the eastern city of Strasbourg in what has become a regular occurrence on New Year's eve. This was down from a peak of 67 in 1997, local government officials said.

In Berlin, thousands of New Year’s revelers packed a two-mile-wide area around the Brandenburg Gate, listening to music and watching fireworks.

In Athens, fireworks streaked over the 2,500-year-old Parthenon in New Year celebrations marking the final stage of preparations for the 2004 Olympic Games in August.Thousands of Athenians of all ages crowded into a central square in front of parliament to watch a light show and performances from Greek and international artists.

In Vatican City, Pope John Paul II gave thanks for 2003 and prayed for world peace in 2004 during a vespers service at St. Peter's Basilica. His New Year's Mass on Thursday will mark the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace.

In Iraq:
But even as 2004 was met by a festive mood at U.S. bases, many American soldiers patrolled Iraqi cities on high alert amid fears that insurgents were planning attacks similar to those staged Christmas Day in Baghdad.

Those fears were realized Wednesday when a car bomb ripped through a central Baghdad restaurant, killing up to eight Iraqis and wounding 35 other people, including seven Los Angeles Times staff members, four local residents, an American and two Britons.

American troops in northern Iraq fired mortars and missiles late Wednesday to welcome the New Year as celebrating Iraqis sent tracer bullets flashing across Baghdad’s sky.

It was a champagne-free holiday for the 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Instead, the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in the northern city of Mosul broke out sparkling grape juice and alcohol-free beer for the few soldiers in a partying mood.

U. S. Army Sgt. Carlos Llanes, left, and Spc. Koki Lane celebrate New Year's Eve dancing to salsa music during a party thrown for soldiers of the 101st Airborne division Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003 at their base in Mosul, Iraq. Llanes is from Miami, Fla. and Lane is from Gresham, Ore. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)Julie Jacobsen / AP

New Year’s was a bittersweet milestone for the division, based in a former Saddam Hussein palace. The 101st Airborne is expected to leave Iraq by the end of February, returning to its base at Fort Campbell, Ky.

“I just had a newborn and I’ve only seen two months of her life,” said Sgt. Torri Griffith, 24, of New Orleans. “I’m anxious to get back.”

A few soldiers planned rang in 2004 at a dance, while others played cards or video games. Some went to bed early before Thursday-morning duty.

Elsewhere in the Middle East:
In Israel, the threat of terrorism prompted even greater security efforts than usual. Police said Wednesday that reinforcements were patrolling night spots in Tel Aviv during celebrations, days after Israeli security officials warned of the possibility of a major New Year’s terrorist attack at a public building or holy site.

In Afghanistan, American soldiers celebrated with karaoke, fireworks and a traditional ball drop before the midnight countdown.

In Asia:
Celebrations turned deadly in the Philippine city of Lucena when fireworks started a fire in an old public market, killing at least 14 people.

Celebrations were happier elsewhere in the region. First to greet the new year were residents of Kiribati, a tiny island halfway between Hawaii and Australia, followed an hour later by New Zealand, where thousands of revelers crammed into a public square and danced as the clock struck midnight.

Colored lights bathe the Sydney Harbour Bridge to welcome in the New Year, January 1, 2004. REUTERS/Tim WimborneTim Wimborne / X01371

In Australia, colorful fireworks lit up Sydney’s famous harbor, where families had arrived hours earlier to secure prime viewing positions along the waterfront.

A tactical response team was on the lookout for everything from drunken revelers to possible security threats.

In Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was joining revelers counting down the final seconds before midnight in a park at the foot of the Petronas Twin Towers, two of the world’s tallest buildings.

Thousands gathered at Tokyo’s Zojoji Temple, where monks in gold and purple robes tolled a giant bell 108 times in a Buddhist ritual of purification.

Some 2.2 million people were expected at Meiji Shrine — Japan’s most visited — before dawn on New Year’s Day to toss coins, offer prayers and buy charms. Shrine spokesman Yoshiki Koshi said about 500 policemen were being mobilized to control the visitors.

According to Japan’s National Police Agency, 86 million people — from a nation of 120 million — are expected to visit local temples or shrines in the first three days of the new year.

Emperor Akihito mourned the losses of Japanese lives last year in tragedies overseas as he prayed for brighter times in the coming year. The emperor’s New Year’s address comes as Japanese troops embark to Iraq in their largest and potentially most dangerous overseas deployment since World War II.

In China, which celebrates its traditional Lunar New Year on Jan. 22, holidays such as Christmas and the Jan. 1 New Year’s have been growing in popularity in recent years as Western styles are embraced.

Beijing held an outdoor performance and midnight ringing at the ancient Dazhong Ancient Bell Tower.

In Shanghai, a huge party was scheduled for the Xintiandi Complex, where thousands of young people were to watch fireworks and concerts, and participate in what was billed as an “all-night rave.”

In Hong Kong, activists planned a pro-democracy rally — following a July 1 protest of 500,000 against an unpopular anti-subversion bill many feared would curb freedoms. Police declined to comment on security arrangements.

... and in space:
Two-hundred-and-forty miles above the Earth, in the relative comfort of the International Space Station, a U.S.-Russian crew was marking New Year's with roast chicken and tea.

U.S. astronaut Michael Foale and his Russian crew mate, Alexander Kaleri, said in a video hookup Wednesday they would toast each other when the clock strikes midnight in London since the station's clock is set to Greenwich Mean Time.