• Friday, Feb 21, 2020
  • Last Update : 09:47 pm

World rings in the new year amid wildfires, protests

  • Published at 09:55 pm December 31st, 2019
New year Australia
The midnight fireworks are seen from Mrs Macquarie's Chair during New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia on January 1, 2020 Reuters

Hong Kong also cancelled its popular New Year's Eve fireworks in Victoria Harbour due to security concerns as pro-democracy protesters formed giant human chains and marched through shopping malls

Australians greeted the new year on Wednesday with a spectacular firework display over Sydney Harbour, despite deadly wildfires which have forced thousands to seek refuge on beaches and compelled many towns to call off their celebrations.

Hong Kong also cancelled its popular New Year's Eve fireworks in Victoria Harbour due to security concerns as pro-democracy protesters formed giant human chains and marched through shopping malls.

New Zealanders were among the first to welcome 2020, with fireworks lighting up the night sky over Auckland.

Two hours later, an estimated one million revellers gathered in Sydney Harbour to enjoy the fireworks after authorities dismissed calls by some members of the public for them to be cancelled in solidarity with fire-hit areas in New South Wales, of which the city is the capital.

Along Australia's eastern seaboard, naval vessels and military helicopters were helping firefighters to rescue thousands fleeing the wildfires that have turned swathes of New South Wales into a raging furnace.

The huge bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares, with new blazes sparked into life almost daily by extremely hot and windy conditions in bushland left tinder-dry after a three-year drought.

Defending the decision not to cancel Sydney's fireworks and reallocate funds to fire-affected regions, City of Sydney mayor Clover Moore said planning had begun 15 months ago and that the event also provided a boost to the region's economy.

Not everybody welcomed that decision.

In Hong Kong, rocked by months of sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations, protesters were urged to wear masks at a rally on Tuesday evening called "Don't forget 2019 - Persist in 2020", according to social media posts.

A "Symphony of Lights" was planned instead of the firework display, involving projections on the city's tallest skyscrapers after a countdown to midnight.

"This year there are no fireworks, but there will probably be teargas somewhere," said 25-year-old IT worker Sam. "For us it’s not really New Year’s Eve. We have to resist every day."

Authorities have deployed 6,000 police officers and Chief Executive Carrie Lam appealed for calm and reconciliation in her New Year's Eve video message.