A New Year's Eve of sadness and defiance as 2020 is welcomed around the world

Revelers yearned for change in Hong Kong and an end to wildfires in Australia, while celebrations in Tokyo had an eye toward the 2020 Olympics.

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By David K. Li

Melancholy celebrations marked the arrival of 2020 around the world on Tuesday, as heavyhearted revelers raised a glass in hopes of happier times ahead in fire-ravaged Australia and protest-swarmed Hong Kong.

More than a million people descended on Sydney Harbour, as a low haze reminded Australians of ongoing wildfires that have been charring huge swaths of New South Wales, the nation’s most populous state.

More than 1,000 homes and at least 12 people have died in wildfires that have scorched the nation, with much of the damage coming in New South Wales.

And while some cities canceled their annual new year fireworks celebrations, Sydney Harbour's beloved show was allowed to go on as scheduled as a display on national resiliency.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, the annual fireworks show over Victoria Harbor was canceled amid safety concerns, stemming from ongoing pro-democracy protests in China's semi-autonomous city and former British colony.

Some roads were closed and barriers blocked traffic in the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district, where protesters celebrated 2020 with chants for change.

Anti-government demonstrators wave flags during a countdown party on New Year's Eve in Hong Kong.Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

Lan Kwai Fong revelers celebrated 2020 at 11 a.m. EST by raising hands and chanted their familiar phrase, “five demands, not one less," in calling for universal suffrage, charges to be dropped against arrested protesters, investigation of police brutality, an end to calling protesters "rioters" and a pledge to never put forward a controversial extradition bill.

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An hour earlier, revelers in Tokyo rang in 2020 at 10 a.m. EST, with many flocking to temples and shrines, offering incense with their prayers to celebrate the passing of 2019.

It's the first Jan. 1 of the new Reiwa era which began in May, after Emperor Akihito stepped down and his son Naruhito became emperor. Japanese citizens also said they they were looking forward to this summer when the nation is set to play host to the Olympics, which get underway on July 24.

“We have a new era and so I am hoping things will be better, although 2019 was also a good year because nothing bad happened," said Masashi Ogami, 38, who ran a sweet rice wine stall at Zojoji Temple in Tokyo.

Thousands of people in India ushered in 2020 by protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a citizenship law they said will discriminate against Muslims and go against India's secular constitution.

In New Delhi, which is in the grips of its second coldest winter in more than a century, protester Irshad Alam, 25, his wife and year-old child endured the New Year's Eve chill to ring in 2020 and make their point against the government.

"It’s freezing here," he said in Delhi, where it struck midnight at 1:30 p.m. EST. "But we are still here because we care about this movement."

Artificial snow on Tverskaya Street in Moscow.Vyacheslav Prokofyev / TASS via Getty Images

Ahead of Moscow's 2020, which started at 4 p.m. EST, President Vladimir Putin urged his citizens to rally around his vision for a modern Russia.

“We are living in turbulent, dynamic and controversial times, but we can and should do everything for Russia to develop successfully and so that everything in our lives can change only for the better,” Putin said in his annual taped statement to the nation.

While Moscow is normally a picturesque winter wonderland this time of year, there was no snow to be found in the nation's capital as the mercury hovered just above freezing.

Snow was trucked in to some central neighborhoods of the capital, only to melt shortly after it was dumped.

Pope Francis greeted pilgrims Tuesday through St. Peter's Square in Vatican City when a woman abruptly grabbed him. After reaching out to touch a child, the pope turned away from the crowd only for a nearby woman to seize his hand and pull the pontiff.

Francis appeared to be in pain and wrenched his arm away from the woman.

In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron rang in the New Year with promises to reform pension plans. Macron made a public televised address on the matter Tuesday, which marked the 27th consecutive day of transport strikes.

"But I hear the fears that are emerging," Macron said. "For you, with the trade union organizations that want it, I expect the Government to find the way to a rapid compromise."

Macron's presidency has been marred with prolonged protests and strikes, as concerned citizens worried over increased tax hikes and uncertain retirements vent their frustration.

The latest stretch of transit worker protests have thrown normal operations off the rails, including The Versailles Palace, which said it would be closed Tuesday due to the strikes.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed.