SYDNEY • Smoke-choked Sydney kicked off a wave of New Year celebrations for billions around the world yesterday, ushering in the new decade.
Australia's largest city usually puts on a dazzling display of pyrotechnics over the glittering harbour, but this year's celebrations have been overshadowed by calls to cancel the fireworks as devastating bush fires rage across the country.
Fireworks displays were scrapped in Australia's capital, Canberra, and Sydney's western suburbs due to elevated fire danger and extreme weather conditions, but the fire authorities said it was safe to go ahead over the water.
Critics wanted Sydney to use the US$6.5 million (S$8.7 million) spent on the display to fight bush fires ringing the city, but officials say the event is worth A$130 million (S$123 million) to the economy and cancelling it would not help those impacted by the fires.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said: "We have committed to harnessing the enormous power of the event to raise more money for drought-and fire-affected communities."
As the clock ticked past midnight, major cities in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas were set to embrace the celebrations, but in many places, the festivities will be marked by turmoil and political upheaval.
After more than six months of near-daily demonstrations, Hong Kong will usher in 2020 with a series of pro-democracy rallies planned for New Year's Eve and News Year's Day.
Protesters were set to form human chains across the city, stage demonstrations at major shopping malls and hold "suck the eve" gatherings at major countdown attractions, including the city's famed Victoria Harbour.
Protesters across India planned to use the New Year's eve holiday to throw street parties to continue their fight against the country's new religion-based citizenship law that they say is discriminatory.
Activist and student groups in New Delhi and several other cities have taken to social media asking people to join them at midnight to ring in 2020.
They planned to have stand-up comedy sessions, music, poetry and readings of India's secular Constitution at the gatherings.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Dec 11 pushed through the Citizenship Amendment Act which allows undocumented migrants of all faiths except Islam from neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to seek Indian citizenship.
Yesterday, Twitter and Facebook posts appeared asking people to gather in several cities including New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai.
In Paris, 250,000 to 300,000 people usually gather on the Champs-Elysees to welcome the New Year, but turnout could suffer amid a gruelling transport strike that has spelt weeks of misery for commuters.
Midnight in London will be marked by the chimes of Big Ben, which has been silent during a long restoration, as traditional fireworks are set off over the Thames for the last new year before Brexit.
It follows a year of political wrangling that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May and culminated in Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledging to leave the European Union on Jan 31.
New York City's counter-terrorism czar expected Times Square to be "the safest place on the planet Earth" on New Year's Eve.
Thousands of police officers were on duty for Tuesday night's festivities, along with specialised units armed with long guns, bomb-sniffing dogs and other measures.
For the first time, police drones are expected to keep watch over the big, confetti-filled celebration - a year late after rain grounded the department's unmanned eye-in-the-sky last year.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, ASSOCIATED PRESS