AUCKLAND: Auckland, New Zealand, has marked the beginning of 2024 as the first major city to celebrate the New Year, with thousands gathering to witness a spectacular fireworks display emanating from the iconic Sky Tower. The festivities, however, are overshadowed by the somber backdrop of ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, casting a pall over New Year’s Eve celebrations worldwide.
Despite the global tensions, Auckland residents welcomed the new year with cheers as a dazzling light show illuminated the city. The fireworks display, originating from the 328-meter (1,076-foot) Sky Tower, captivated the audience.
This year’s New Year’s Eve is marred by the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, prompting increased security measures in many cities, while some locations have canceled festivities altogether due to safety concerns.
In Auckland, light rain earlier in the day had cleared as predicted, creating a favorable atmosphere for the countdown. The illuminated digital display near the top of the Sky Tower marked the commencement of the new year.
Next in line, Sydney, Australia, will feature its renowned midnight fireworks display at the Sydney Harbor Bridge, attracting an estimated 425 million viewers worldwide. In preparation for the event, Sydney has deployed an increased police presence, with more than one million people expected to gather at the harbor waterfront for optimal views. Some have been camping at vantage points since Sunday morning.
Pakistan Bans All New Year’s Eve Celebrations
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the government has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar urged Pakistanis to demonstrate simplicity and solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza as they enter the new year.
Pope Francis, during a traditional Sunday blessing from the Vatican overlooking St. Peter’s Square, reflected on 2023 as a year marked by war. He offered prayers for the Ukrainian and Palestinian populations, among others, urging introspection on the human toll of armed conflicts.
In New York’s Times Square, officials are prepared to welcome tens of thousands of revelers for the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, featuring live performances and televised appearances. Security measures have been expanded to create a buffer zone, anticipating potential demonstrations amid ongoing protests related to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
European cities are also on high alert, with France deploying 90,000 law enforcement officers and heightened security measures in Berlin to prevent riots. In Russia, military actions in Ukraine have led to the cancellation of the usual Red Square fireworks and concert.