Revellers welcome 2018 in Europe

Paris: Countless revellers switched into party mode today across Europe to ring in 2018 after Sydney and Hong Kong earlier welcomed New Year on the other side of the globe with dazzling firework displays.

Revellers danced to Auld Lang Syne in Hong Kong as the city staged a stunning pyrotechnics display over its famous Victoria Harbour and thousands watched as “shooting stars” were fired from the rooftops of skyscrapers in a 10-minute musical fireworks display.

Three hours earlier Australia had rung in the New Year with a spectacular display of rainbow-coloured fireworks cascading from Sydney Harbour Bridge, as partygoers marked the nation’s legalisation of gay marriage amid tight security

As clocks prepared to strike midnight in Europe, London and Paris were awash with people despite the winter cold.

A storm warning and drizzle failed to dampen spirits on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, where thousands gathered for a light show and a fireworks display at the Arc de Triomphe.

Nearly 2,000 security force members were deployed to protect the crowd — out of some 140,000 mobilised nationwide to guard against the jihadist threat which the authorities describe as “still high”.

One reveller, 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.

In London, more than 100,000 ticket-holders were expected to watch London’s firework display from the banks of the River Thames.

As per tradition, the Big Ben bell in the Houses of Parliament will ring 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.

Despite the British capital being hit by four terror attacks in 2017, Scotland Yard said it had fewer police officers on the streets than for last year’s event.

“We will have the right response of officers at the right locations,” said superintendent Nick Aldworth.

“There is no specific threat to this event,” he added.

Tens of thousands of people were expected in Edinburgh for its Hogmanay celebrations — one of the world’s biggest street parties.

In Berlin, special tents were set up at the Brandenburg Gate to care for women victims of sexual harassment or those who feel threatened, following mass assaults on women in Cologne two years ago.

In Cologne itself, 1,400 police were being mobilised, 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 Burj Khalifa.

Moscow was likewise into a new year and a new day 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 Anglophone regions.

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo vowed “radical change in governance” in the coming year in his end-of-year speech.

“I am determined to do everything possible to strengthen our unity, regain our cohesion,” he said. “Cohesion is my ambition for Gabon”.

In the Americas the countdown continued, meanwhile. 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.

Despite the joyous mood among those enjoying the party fun, stricter security has been a key focus amid fears that crowds could be targets for vehicle and other terror attacks.

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 ploughed 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.

New York’s Times Square celebrations are set to go ahead despite the Arctic chill gripping much of the central and northeastern United States and Canada.

But revellers there will be guarded by the strongest security presence in years, after two recent attacks apparently inspired by the Islamic State group.

IS’s defeat in Iraq and Syria was one of the key stories this year, but the jihadists remain a threat and numerous attacks around the world were claimed by them or Al-Qaeda- linked groups.

Donald Trump stole the news spotlight after making his debut as US President in January 2017, with his “America first” policies and a bombastic personal style that has shaken up international diplomacy.

Political and diplomatic earthquakes set to rumble into 2018 include the crisis in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, and the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

In Europe, further talks on Brexit will help shape the region’s future trade relationship while Russia is set to host the football World Cup amid frictions with the West.