Much of the world welcomed 2001 with fireworks, good cheer and optimism, and even in troubled lands the hope of a better future prevailed.
Yugoslavia’s celebrations, the first since the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic, were dubbed “the first free New Year,” temple bells tolled in Japan and tens of thousands gathered for a carnival in Hong Kong.
Dance of Defiance
In Argentina, police blocked off Corrientes Avenue in Buenos Aires to create space for a New Year’s Eve tango-fest.
“What worries? I am just here to dance! Tango is one of the great wonders of Argentina,” said Alberto Pajesz.
Pakistan’s militant Muslims warned against celebrations and deployed extra soldiers to make sure no dancing took place, and authorities in Lebanon and Syria warned celebrants to leave their guns at home.
“Gunfire is an uncivilized phenomenon,” said Al-Baath, the newspaper of Syria’s ruling party. “Some people think that gunfire and fireworks reflect happiness. … They are very dangerous.”
Lebanese authorities banned firing into the air after the nation’s civil war ended in 1990. However, shooting remains a New Year’s Eve tradition.
Drummers Drumming; Jumpers Jumping
In Paris, a thousand drummers from all over Europe were recruited to beat the countdown to midnight in unison at the Georges Pompidou Center.
Fifteen parachutists from the United States, Europe and Asia leaped from the old millennium to the new as midnight chimed today, using the world’s tallest skyscrapers as a launch pad.
“What a great New Year!” cried an exuberant Ed Trick, 38, a carpenter from Petaluma, Calif., one of the nine Americans who joined in the dive from Malaysia’s Petronas Twin towers, each 1,483 feet tall.
The jump started at 15 seconds before midnight, so that when they landed time had moved forward to a new millennium — at least in the view of those who insist that 2000 was the last year of the second millennium A.D.
The jumpers — claiming a world record for most people in one base jump — were helped by perfect weather, shouts of “Happy New Year!” and strains of “Auld Lang Syne” from more than 100,000 spectators below.
Omar Alhegelan, 34, who runs a parachute school in Eloy, Ariz., said jumping was the “ultimate expression of freedom.”
“As a Muslim, as someone from Saudi Arabia, I dedicate this jump to the children of Palestine and Israel, and I hope that they enjoy the same kind of freedom,” Alhegelan said.
‘A Year of Difficult Decisions’
Russians marked the holiday with gift-giving and decorating homes with images of the Santa Claus-like Dyed Moroz [Grandfather Frost] and his sidekick Snegurochka [Snow Maiden]. Christmas, an official holiday since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, is celebrated on Jan. 7 on the Orthodox calendar.
“We are leaving behind another year, a year of happy and tragic events, a year of difficult decisions,” Russian President Vladimir Putin, marking the end of his first year in power, said in a statement delivered to each of Russia’s regions.
“But things which looked impossible a short time ago are becoming facts of our life. Distinct elements of stability appeared in our country, and that is valuable for politics, for economics and for every one of us,” Putin said.
Sobriety Enforced in Bangladesh
Hundreds of police patrolled the capital of Bangladesh, intent on enforcing a quiet, sober holiday. Many clubs organize New Year’s parties and young revelers go into the streets with their drinks, which is illegal.
“Stern action will be taken against those who create public nuisance, blast firecrackers and block traffic to celebrate the new year,” the Dhaka Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
Cold, rainy weather canceled fireworks celebrations in Liverpool, England, and Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
In London, the Millennium Dome had a rare full house for a dance party before closing for good, ending a year of controversy over the expense of building the world’s largest enclosed space and its inability to attract enough customers to pay its own way.
Year of the Snake
In Japan, as the Year of the Dragon gave way to the Year of the Snake at midnight, temple bells sounded 108 times, symbolically driving out the 108 sins in the Buddhist catalogue.
Many people began the customary visits to shrines and temples that will take place over the next few days.
“The Japanese will refresh their minds with these visits,” said Tsutomu Kurita, an official at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine.
People partied throughout Hong Kong to greet the new year, some gathering in Victoria Park for a government-organized carnival, which included a live concert by over 20 local pop stars.