Partygoers across the world celebrated the countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve with fireworks and brightly lit signs.
It offered a hopeful start to 2024 for some, even as the world’s ongoing conflicts raised security concerns and led to muted or even cancelled festivities.
Stunning fireworks displays bloomed at famous locations such as the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the sleek glass walls of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in the United Arab Emirates, and accompanied a collective cheer filling the air in Nairobi, Kenya.
As the clock struck midnight in Australia, more than a million people — a number equivalent to one in five of the city’s residents — watched a 12-minute firework display focused on the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the shore and from boats in the harbour.
“It’s total madness,” said German tourist Janna Thomas, who had waited in line since 7.30am to secure a prime waterfront place in the Sydney Botanic Garden.
Organisers worldwide have readied for large-scale celebrations despite the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine.
In New York City, where there have been near-daily protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war, officials and party organisers said they were prepared to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of revellers who will flood Times Square in the heart of Manhattan.
China celebrated the new calendar year relatively quietly, with most major cities banning fireworks over safety and pollution concerns.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said during his New Year address that the country would focus on building momentum for economic recovery in 2024 and pledged China would “surely be reunified” with Taiwan.
In Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, the mood appeared upbeat as people gathered for a fireworks show at the bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 skyscraper, as well as at concerts and other events held throughout the city.
Fireworks exploded up and down the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, as clocks struck midnight in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
In India, thousands of revellers from the financial hub of Mumbai flocked to a bustling promenade to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea. In New Delhi, fireworks raised concerns that the capital — already infamous for its poor air quality — would be blanketed by a toxic haze on the first morning of the new year.
Temple bells rang out across Japan as people gathered at shrines and temples. At the Tsukiji Temple in Tokyo, visitors were given free hot milk and corn soup as they stood in line to strike a big bell, and a pipe-organ concert was held before a majestic altar.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled 2023 as a year marked by wartime suffering. During his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, he offered prayers for “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people and many others”.
“At the end of the year, we will have the courage to ask ourselves how many human lives have been shattered by armed conflict, how many dead and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty,” the pontiff said.
In Russia, the country’s military actions in Ukraine have overshadowed end-of-year celebrations, with the usual fireworks and concert on Moscow’s Red Square cancelled, as last year.
After shelling in the centre of the Russian border city of Belgorod on Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across Russia also cancelled their usual firework displays, including in Vladivostok.
Millions throughout Russia were expected to have tuned into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s prerecorded address, where he asserted there was no force that could divide Russians and stop the country’s development.
Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip killed at least 35 people on Sunday, hospital officials said, as fighting raged across the tiny enclave a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war will continue for “many more months”, resisting international calls for a cease-fire.
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.
In Iraq, a Christmas tree was decorated with Palestinian flags and symbolic bodies in funeral shrouds, placed beside a liberty monument in central Baghdad. Many Christians in Iraq have cancelled this year’s festivities in solidarity with Gaza, and have chosen to limit their celebrations to prayers and rituals.
“We hope that the new year, 2024 will be a year of goodness, prosperity and joy,” said Ahmed Ali, a Baghdad resident.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said there were “no specific threats” to his city’s annual New Year’s Eve bash, which was set to feature live performances from Flo Rida, Megan Thee Stallion and LL Cool J, as well as televised appearances from Cardi B and others.
Organisers said in-person attendance was expected to return to pre-Covid levels, even as foot traffic around Times Square remains down slightly since the pandemic.
New York City police said they would expand the security perimeter around the party, creating a “buffer zone” that would allow them to head off potential demonstrations. Officials also planned to monitor any protests with drones, the mayor said. During last year’s New Year’s Eve party, a machete-wielding man attacked three police officers a few blocks from Times Square.
Security was also be heightened across European cities on Sunday.
German authorities said they had detained three more people in connection with a reported threat of a New Year’s Eve attack by Islamic extremists on the world-famous Cologne Cathedral.
In Berlin, some 4,500 police officers are expected to keep order and avoid riots like a year ago. Police in the German capital issued a ban on the traditional use of fire crackers for several streets across the city. They also banned a pro-Palestinian protest in the Neukoelln neighbourhood of the city, which has seen several pro-Palestinian riots.
In France, 90,000 law enforcement officers were set to be deployed, domestic intelligence chief Celine Berthon said on Friday. Of those, 6,000 will be in Paris, where French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said more than 1.5 million people are expected to attend celebrations on the Champs-Elysees.
Ms Darmanin cited a “very high terrorist threat” partly because of the Israel-Hamas war. Police for the first time will be able to use drones as part of security work, she said, and tens of thousands of firefighters and 5,000 soldiers would also be deployed.
New Year’s Eve celebrations in the French capital will centre on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, including DJ sets, fireworks and video projections on the Arc de Triomphe.
In a New Year’s message, French President Emmanuel Macron predicted that the 2024 European Parliament elections will be crucial to Ukraine’s future and the fate of democracy across Europe.
Skyscrapers in Tel Aviv in Israel were lit up in yellow to call for the release of hostages held by Palestinian militants in Gaza for more than 80 days.
“While you are counting down until the new year, our time and our lives stopped,” said Moran Betzer Tayar, the aunt of Yagev Buchshtab, a 34-year-old hostage.
In the Gaza Strip, displaced Palestinians huddled around fires in a makeshift refugee camp.
“From the intensity of the pain we live, we do not feel that there is a new year,” said Kamal al-Zeinaty, who has lost multiple family members in the conflict. “All the days are the same.”