Australia is ready to hug New Year and bid adieu 2019 with massive fireworks amidst protest. Smoke-choked Sydney’s huge fireworks display, seen by billions around the world and ringing in the new decade.
Australia's largest city usually puts on a dazzling display of pyrotechnics over the glittering Darling Harbour but this year's celebrations have been overshadowed by calls to cancel the fireworks as devastating bush-fires rage across the country. Toxic smoke haze has shrouded Sydney for weeks and a petition to cancel the event out of respect for fire victims attracted more than 280,000 signatures.
Fireworks displays were scrapped in Australia's capital, Canberra, and Sydney's western suburbs due to elevated fire danger and extreme weather conditions but fire authorities said it was safe to go ahead over the water. Critics wanted Sydney to use the $6.5 million ($4.5 million) spent on the display to fight bush-fires ringing the city, but officials say the event is worth Aus$130 million to the economy and canceling it would not help those impacted by the fires.
"We have committed to harnessing the enormous power of the event to raise more money for drought- and fire-affected communities," Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said. More than 100,000 fireworks will light up the skyline for 12 minutes to about one million spectators who usually crowd foreshores and parks. As the clock ticks past midnight, major cities in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas will 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 2019 with a series of pro-democracy rallies planned for New Year's Eve. Protesters are 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.
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 grueling 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 and culminated in Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledging to leave the European Union on January 31.
Russia will celebrate the new decade over several time-zones, with Muscovite's flocking to the center of the capital for fireworks over the Kremlin. As party-goers embrace the festivities, attention will turn to 2020 and whether it will be as tumultuous as the previous year, which saw an explosion of demonstrations as people demanded an overhaul of entrenched political systems.