Countless revelers switched into party mode Sunday across the world to ring in 2018 with parties, dazzling firework displays and a frigid ball drop in New York, all under tight security.
In Manhattan, a glittering crystal ball dropped with a burst of confetti and dazzling fireworks as revelers rang in 2018 in frigid Times Square — the second-coldest celebration there on record.
It was only 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 Celsius) in the city, and the celebration was less crowded than other years. Some of the metal pens, usually packed with people, were only half-full. Some revelers, bundled up in hats, gloves, face masks and numerous layers of clothing, jogged to keep warm, others bounced and danced. Some stood and shivered.
In London more than 100,000 ticket-holders gazed up at a spectacular pyrotechnics display from the banks of the river Thames, before dancing to Auld Lang Syne.
Keeping with tradition, the Big Ben bell in the Houses of Parliament rang in Britain’s new year — the chimes having been turned back on especially for the celebrations as the famous clock tower is undergoing renovation and encased in scaffolding.
Other European cities were similarly awash with people despite the winter cold.
In Paris hundreds of thousands of partygoers braved a storm warning and drizzle to line the Champs-Elysees avenue before a dazzling light show and a fireworks display lit up the Arc de Triomphe.
Nearly 2,000 security forces were deployed to protect the crowd — out of some 140,000 mobilized nationwide to guard against the jihadist threat which the authorities describe as “still high.”
One participant, who gave his name only as Stephane, insisted that a spate of recent attacks on France were “in the past.”
“Life goes on and they (jihadists) are on the retreat,” he said.
While New Year’s Eve is not officially celebrated in Israel, many secular Israelis do mark the end of the civil year, known locally as “Sylvester” — the December 31 anniversary of the death of Pope Sylvester I.
Israeli authorities said they were on alert throughout the country with extra units, special patrol units and border police patrolling city centers. Traffic police and volunteers were also spread out to conduct alcohol inspections on drivers.
In Hong Kong, the city staged a stunning fireworks display over its famous Victoria Harbour and thousands watched as “shooting stars” were fired from the rooftops of skyscrapers during a 10-minute musical spectacular.
Three hours earlier Australia had rung in the New Year with a magnificent show of rainbow-coloured fireworks cascading from Sydney Harbour Bridge, as partygoers marked the nation’s legalisation of gay marriage amid tight security.
In Britain, despite the capital being hit by four terror attacks in 2017, Scotland Yard said it had fewer police officers on the streets than during last year’s event.
And revelers on the banks of the Thames were in a party mood as they danced to a soundtrack dominated by women to mark the centenary of women being granted the vote.
“We will have the right response of officers at the right locations,” said superintendent Nick Aldworth. “There is no specific threat to this event.
Tens of thousands of people had been expected in Edinburgh for its Hogmanay celebrations — one of the world’s biggest street parties.
Around the world
In Berlin, special tents were set up at the Brandenburg Gate to assist female victims of sexual harassment, following mass assaults on women in Cologne two years ago.
In Cologne itself, 1,400 police were being mobilized, street lighting improved and more video cameras installed.
As the midnight chimes neared in western Europe, Dubai had already moved into 2018, celebrating with a laser show on the world’s tallest tower, the 828-metre (2,716-foot) Burj Khalifa.
Moscow likewise entered the new year with major boulevards and 36 key sites decked out.
In Africa, Cameroon President Paul Biya used the occasion to remind his citizens of their “duty” to “maintain republican order” as well as “social peace and national unity” amid unrest in the country’s Anglophone regions.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo vowed “radical change in governance” in 2018 in his end-of-year speech, with around a third of the country living below the poverty line.
“I am determined to do everything possible to strengthen our unity, regain our cohesion,” he said.
In the Americas the countdown continued. In Brazil’s party capital Rio millions were to gather on Copacabana beach to watch the fireworks, with many wearing white, the traditional colour to usher in the new year.
Toughest security in years
Despite the joyous mood among those celebrating, stricter security has been a key focus amid fears that crowds could be targets for vehicle and other terror attacks.
In New York, security was tighter than ever before, after two terrorist attacks and a rampaging SUV driver who plowed into a crowd on the very spot where the party was taking place. Garages in the area were sealed off. Detectives were stationed at area hotels working with security officials to prevent sniper attacks.
Thousands of uniformed officers lined the streets. Concrete blocks and sanitation trucks blocked vehicles from entering the secure area where spectators gathered. Partygoers passed through one of a dozen checkpoints where they were screened and then screened again as they made their way to the main event.
At 48th Street and Seventh Avenue, Chris Garcia, his girlfriend, Zayra Velazquez, and her brother Edgar Valdez stood rigidly, having waited in the cold for almost six hours. Valdez said he felt “pretty safe” at the event.
“They checked us pretty good,” he said. “Police checked what we had, and another scanned us with metal detectors.”
In Australia, the stronger police presence included some officers carrying semi-automatic rifles in Sydney and bollards used as barriers against vehicles. Earlier in December one man was killed and more than a dozen hurt when a man plowed a car into a crowd of pedestrians in Melbourne.
Other cities are also on alert following deadly vehicle assaults over the past two years in Barcelona, Nice and London.