Town squares around the world were jammed with people on New Year’s Eve - and the one in the little mountain village of Polho in southern Mexico was no different.
But the 6,000 Tzotzil Indians crowded into the village square weren’t celebrating. They were taking refuge from gunmen, who massacred 45 men, women and children last week in their nearby village of Acteal.
“We want to go home, but we don’t know if the murderers will come again. We don’t want to die,” villager Rafael Gomez Perez said.
A modest wish for the new year, which was marked in many other places around the world Wednesday with higher hopes, some solemnities and traditional silliness.
In Cairo, young men strolled along the Nile, tossing firecrackers behind groups of veiled women, provoking laughs and screams. Some youngsters wore golden conical hats, giving the pavement a party atmosphere.
But the main festival in Cairo, and the Arab world, was Ramadan - the dawn-to-dusk Muslim fast that began Tuesday. The Meridien Hotel in Cairo adorned its river facade with chains of lights in the shape of a Ramadan lantern.
Japan marked the dawn of the Year of the Tiger with 108 strokes at midnight from cast-iron temple bells, with each ring believed to dispel an evil of the past year.
India’s richest Hindu shrine - the Venkateswara Temple in the southern town of Tirupati - planned to mark the new year by offering its resident deity a ball of sticky, sweet confection the size of a motorcycle wheel, local reports said Wednesday. The deep-fried flour soaked in sugar syrup is a ritual offering to bring worshippers good luck.
Up to a million residents of Sydney, Australia, gathered at the city’s harbor - on the shores and in hundreds of boats - to see a $1.3 million fireworks display. Police reported 26 arrests but called it a quiet night in the city. One mounted police officer suffered back injuries when a man jumped onto her horse. The animal’s legs buckled and both people fell off, and the man was charged with assault.
People joined crowds in Europe to welcome the new year: at the Puerta del Sol Plaza in Madrid, the Champs-Elysees in Paris and Trafalgar Square in London.
In Stockholm, a New Year’s Eve dance unofficially launched the Swedish capital’s turn as Europe’s Cultural Capital for 1998. About 5,000 people were expected to join the celebration.
Pope John Paul II celebrated at the Jesuit church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the heart of Rome. The service included the singing of the “Te Deum,” the ancient hymn of praise and thanksgiving.
In Britain, customs authorities agreed to release giant balloons of Hagar the Horrible, Betty Boop and other cartoon characters in time for them to join the London Parade on New Year’s Day.
The balloons, which also appeared in the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, were seized at Heathrow Airport because the necessary paperwork had not been completed.
“The Customs officers have shown a little seasonal good will and common sense has prevailed,” said Dan Kirkby, spokesman for the company that imported the balloons.
A survey released in Britain surprised no one by finding that more than half of New Year’s resolutions will be broken within a fortnight. Which perhaps explains why only a third of those responding to the poll said they bothered making any resolutions at all.
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