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World greets 2008

Fireworks light the sky above the Quadriga at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Associated Press
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Fireworks light the sky above the Quadriga at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Associated Press (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

PARIS – A million revelers cheered fireworks in Sydney. Summer Olympics organizers hosted dance and music in Beijing. And rare celebrations resounded in war-torn Baghdad.

Across the globe, people gathered for parties, shot off fireworks and held out hopes for a peaceful and prosperous 2008.

But reminders of violence were apparent as security was tightened in many nations.

Fireworks were canceled in downtown Brussels, Belgium, where police last week detained 14 people suspected of plotting to help an accused al-Qaida militant break out of jail.

Festivities in Paris centered on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue and the Eiffel Tower, where about 4,500 police and 140 rescue officials patrolled the streets.

And in Thailand, an army spokesman said he believed that five bombs set off by suspected Muslim insurgents in a Thai-Malaysian border tourist town likely targeted New Year’s revelers.

The bombs, which wounded 27 people, exploded in the hotel and nightlife area of Sungai Kolok.

The new year ended an era in France, where smoke-filled cafes became a thing of memory. Following up on a ban last year on smoking in many indoor locations, cigarettes were prohibited in dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, casinos and cafes.

But in New York, an old tradition merely got a new twist.

More than a million revelers in New York’s Times Square cheered at the 100th drop of a giant ball. A century ago the tradition began with a 700-pound ball of wood and iron, lit with 100 25-watt incandescent bulbs. This year’s event featured an energy-efficient sphere clad in Waterford crystals, with 9,576 light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that generated a kaleidoscope of colors.

Berlin held a massive fete: In a stretch from the city’s famous Brandenburg Gate along Tiergarten park to the western part of town, officials set up three stages, 13 bands, a 40-yard tall Ferris wheel and more than 100 beer stands and snack joints.

In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI took a somber note, lamenting what he called the “trivialization” of sexuality and lack of faith among young people during a vespers’ service in St. Peter’s Basilica.


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