The world heralds in New Year as wars cast shadow on 2024

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 1st January 2024

Revellers counted down to midnight on New Year’s Eve across the globe on Sunday as fireworks and festive lights offered a hopeful start to 2024 for some, even as the world’s ongoing conflicts subdued celebrations and raised security concerns.

In Australia, more than a million people watched a pyrotechnic display centred around Sydney’s famous Opera House and harbour bridge – a number of spectators equivalent to one in five of the city’s residents.

Security was also heightened across European cities on Sunday. At least 250 people were detained on various charges and around 15 officers were injured, police said. Some 4,500 police officers kept order and avoided riots like those seen a year ago. Authorities also banned the traditional use of firecrackers for several streets across the city. They also banned a pro-Palestinian protest in the Neukoelln neighbourhood of the German capital, which has seen several pro-Palestinian riots. Berlin police say they detained over 200 people on New Year’s Eve in the German capital.

In a separate incident, three arrests were made in Cologne in connection with a plot to attack the city’s iconic cathedral. German authorities said they detained three more people in connection with a reported threat of a New Year’s Eve attack by Islamic extremists on the world-famous Cologne Cathedral.

Photo: INA FASSBENDER/AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron, in a televised address ahead of New Year celebrations, said 2024 would be “the year of our French pride” marked by the Paris 2024 Olympic Summer Games and the re-opening of Notre-Dame cathedral after a devastating fire. Some 90,000 police and security officers were deployed around France, including along Champs-Elysees Avenue, where large crowds took in a multi-dimensional light show projected onto the Arc de Triomphe showcasing the history of Paris and sports on the menu for next year’s Summer Olympics in the city.

London ushered in the New Year with the bongs of its famous Big Ben bell, fireworks, and a display of news highlights that featured King Charles’ coronation.

In New York, tens of thousands of revellers gathered in Manhattan’s Times Square to watch the lighted ball drop at midnight, after scheduled performances by musicians including Megan Thee Stallion and LL Cool J. President Biden said in an interview ahead of the ball drop that he hoped celebrants realised “we’re in a better position than any country in the world to lead the world”.

Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Stunning fireworks displays bloomed at iconic locations like the Acropolis in Athens; reflected in the sleek glass walls of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai; and accompanied a collective cheer filling the air in Nairobi.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis Pope highlighted the human cost of war, recalling 2023 as a year marked by wartime suffering. During his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St Peter’s Square, he offered prayers for “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people and many others”. “At the end of the year, will we have the courage to ask ourselves: how many human lives have been shattered by armed conflict, how many dead and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty?” the Pontiff said.

China celebrated relatively quietly, with most major cities banning fireworks over safety and pollution concerns. Still, people gathered and performers danced in colourful costumes in Beijing, while a crowd released wish balloons in Chongqing. During his New Year address, President Xi Jinping said the country would focus on building momentum for economic recovery in 2024 and pledged China would “surely be reunified” with Taiwan.

In Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, the mood was upbeat as revellers gathered for a fireworks show at the bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 skyscraper and at concerts and other events citywide.

In India, thousands of revellers from the financial hub of Mumbai watched the sun set over the Arabian Sea. Fireworks in New Delhi raised concerns that the capital, already infamous for its poor air quality, would be blanketed by a toxic haze on the first morning of the new year.

Across Japan, people gathered at temples such as the Tsukiji Temple in Tokyo, where visitors were given free hot milk and corn soup as they stood in line to strike a massive bell.

In Russia, the country’s military actions in Ukraine overshadowed end-of-year celebrations, with the usual fireworks and concert on Moscow’s Red Square cancelled for the second year running. Even without the festivities, people gathered in the square, and some cheered and pointed their phones at a clock counting down the year’s final seconds. After shelling in the Russian border city of Belgorod on Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across the country also cancelled their firework displays, including in Vladivostok. Millions tuned in to President Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s pre-recorded address, in which he said no force could divide Russians and stop the country’s development.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his New Year address that Ukraine had become stronger in overcoming serious difficulties as the war against Russia is almost two years old. He mentioned the word “war” 14 times in a 20-minute address, according to Reuters.

Skyscrapers in Tel Aviv were lit up in yellow to call for the release of hostages held by Palestinian militants in Gaza for more than 80 days. “While you are counting down until the new year, our time and our lives stopped,” said Moran Betzer Tayar, the aunt of Yagev Buchshtab, a 34-year-old hostage.

In Iraq, a Christmas tree was decorated with Palestinian flags and symbolic bodies in funeral shrouds, placed beside a liberty monument in central Baghdad. Many Christians in Iraq have cancelled this year’s festivities in solidarity with Gaza, and have chosen to limit their celebrations to prayers and rituals

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, the government banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations in solidarity with the Palestinians.

A dazzling fireworks spectacle lit up Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach where almost two million people gathered to welcome in the New Year.

Xi vows China will “surely be reunified” with Taiwan

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said in his televised New Year address that his country’s “reunification” with Taiwan was inevitable, renewing Beijing’s threats to take over the self-ruled island. “China will surely be reunified, and all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be bound by a common sense of purpose,” Mr Xi said in his annual address to mark the new year.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen today expressed hope that Taipei and Beijing would seek “long-term peaceful coexistence”, and said that future relations with China should be decided according to Taiwan’s “democratic procedures”. In her final New Year’s speech before leaving office next May, Tsai expressed hope of restarting communications with Beijing. “We hope that the two sides will jointly seek a long-term and stable path of peaceful coexistence under conditions of equality, democracy, and dialogue.”

Photo: AP

Xi to Biden: “ready to work for stable ties”

In an exchange of messages with US President Joe Biden on the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said that he was willing to work with the United States to promote stable bilateral ties between the two countries. Chinese state CCTV quoted Xi saying both sides should “take practical actions to promote the stable, healthy and sustainable development of China-US relations”. Xi stressed he was “willing to work with Biden to continue to manage relations that benefit both China and the United States and its people, and to promote world peace and development,” adding that “adhering to mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation is the correct way of interaction between China and the US.”

Kim ready to “destroy South and US if they start a war”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his country’s top military officials to “annihilate” South Korea and the United States if the two nations begin an armed confrontation, state news agency KCNA reported on Monday. “If the enemy chooses confrontation and military provocation against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, our army must strike a deadly blow to completely annihilate it, mobilising all the strongest means without a moment’s hesitation,” Kim said during a meeting with top North Korean commanders in Pyongyang.

Israeli jets intensify bombing missions on central Gaza

Israeli jets intensified attacks on central Gaza yesterday as battles raged through the rubble of towns and refugee camps. Israeli Prime Minister signalled no let-up in a campaign that has killed many thousands and levelled much of Gaza, while his vow to restore Israeli control over the enclave’s border with Egypt raises new questions over an eventual two-state solution.

Air strikes pounded al-Maghazi and al-Bureij in the centre of Gaza, killing 10 people in one house and driving more to flee to Rafah on the border with Egypt from front lines where Israeli tanks are battling Hamas fighters. Many of the tens of thousands of people fleeing to Rafah had no possessions and nowhere to sleep, the UN humanitarian agency said. Six people died in a strike on the village of Al-Mughraqa outside Gaza City, health officials said. As 2023 drew to a close, Palestinians in Gaza prayed for a ceasefire but had little hope the new year would be better.

Meanwhile, Times of Israel reports more than 20 rockets were fired by Hamas at southern and central Israel just at the start of the new year. Most were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system. Sirens sounded in various locations in the centre of the country. No injuries have been reported so far.

Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

US sinks 3 ships, kills 10 after Houthi Red Sea attack

US helicopters repelled an attack by Iran-backed Houthi militants on a Maersk container vessel in the Red Sea, sinking three ships and killing 10 militants, according to accounts by American, Maersk, and Houthi officials on Sunday. The naval battle occurred as the attackers sought to board the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou. Helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely joined the ship’s security team in repelling the attackers after receiving a distress call.

Maersk said it was pausing all sailing through the Red Sea for 48 hours after the attack. A spokesman for the Houthis said the group carried out the attack because the ship’s crew refused to heed warning calls. He said 10 Houthi naval personnel were “dead and missing” after their boats were attacked by US forces in the Red Sea. Yemen’s Houthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea since November to show their support for Hamas, prompting major shipping companies to take the longer and costlier route around the Africa’s Cape of Good Hope rather than through the Suez Canal. The Red Sea is the entry point for ships using the Suez Canal, which handles about 12% of global trade and vital for the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.

AFP file photo

Love not possessionMattarella

Love is neither domination nor possession, Italian President Sergio Mattarella told Italians in his traditional end of year message on Sunday, commenting on a wave of femicide that has hit Italy in the past year. Addressing “the younger ones”, he told them: “I tell you in simple words: love is not selfishness, possession, domination, misunderstood pride. Real love is much more than respect: it is gift, gratuitousness, sensitivity,” he said, speaking of “violence, the most hateful violence against women”. The femicide wave was most recently highlighted by the murder, by her possessive ex, of 22-year-old student Giulia Cecchettin, adopted by Italy as a symbol of murderous violence against women.

Australian Olympic cyclist killed in car crash, husband arrested

Australian Olympic track cyclist and former world champion Melissa Hoskins has died after a car accident in the country’s south, the Australian Olympic Committee said early on Monday. Hoskins’ husband, twice world individual time trial champion Rohan Dennis, has been arrested and charged over her death. Hoskins, 32, won gold in the team pursuit at the 2015 world championships and was a member of the Australian team at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.

Photo: Western Australian Institute of Sport / Twitter

Summer baby boy for Czech tennis player Kvitova

Czech tennis player Petra Kvitova announced today that she is expectant and plans to put her career on hold. “On the first day of 2024 I wanted to wish you a Happy New Year and share the exciting news that Jiri and I will be welcoming a baby boy into our family this summer,” the two-time Wimbledon champion wrote on Instagram. “While I will miss competing in the sport I love, I am looking forward to spending some time at home to prepare for this exciting next chapter in our lives,” Kvitova added. The 33-year-old world number 17 married her coach Jiri Vanek in July last year.

Photo: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

 Wonka leads new year’s box office

Wonka is winning the long New Year’s weekend box office race as a tumultuous 2023 comes to a close. The Warner Bros origin picture – starring Timothée Chalamet as young candymaker Willy Wonka – is on course to gross $31.8 million for the four-day holiday weekend, putting its domestic tally at a sweet $142.5 million through Monday. Overseas, it earned $39.1 million from 77 markets for a hefty $244.4 million foreign tally and $386.9 million globally. Elsewhere, better-than-expected holiday performers The Color Purple, Anyone But You, and The Boys in the Boat helped domestic revenue eke past $9 billion in a post-pandemic first.

Main photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

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