SYDNEY: Jubilant crowds began bidding farewell on Sunday to the hottest year on record, closing a turbulent 12 months marked by clever chatbots, climate crises and wrenching wars in Gaza and Ukraine.
Much of the world’s population — now more than eight billion — is hoping to shake off high living costs and global tumult in 2024, which will bring elections concerning half the world’s population and the Paris Olympics.
In Sydney, the self-proclaimed “New Year’s capital of the world”, more than a million partygoers packed the harbour foreshore, with city officials and police warning that all vantage points were full.
Sydneysiders gathered through the day at prominent sites, defying uncharacteristically dank weather, and were not disappointed when the Harbour Bridge and other landmarks were garlanded in light and colour by eight tonnes of fireworks.
Pyrotechnics also illuminated the skies in Auckland, Hong Kong, Manila and Indonesia.
Nudist bathers wearing Santa hats waded into the mild Mediterranean waters of southern France while revellers munched on skewers of meat and danced in the streets in traditional end-of-year celebrations in Greece’s Thessaloniki.
The last 12 months brought “Barbiegeddon” at the box office, a proliferation of human-seeming artificial intelligence tools, and a world-first whole-eye transplant.
India outgrew China as the world’s most populous country, and then became the first nation to land an unmanned craft on the Moon’s south pole.
It was also the hottest year since records began in 1880, with a spate of climate-fuelled disasters striking across the world.
Fans bade adieu to “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Tina Turner, “Friends” actor Matthew Perry, hell-raising Anglo-Irish songsmith Shane MacGowan and master dystopian novelist Cormac McCarthy.
Perhaps more than anything, 2023 will be remembered for war in the Middle East, after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 raids on southern Israel and Israel’s ferocious reprisals on Gaza.
The United Nations estimates that almost two million Gazans have been displaced since Israel’s siege began, or about 85 percent of the peacetime population.
With once-bustling Gaza City neighbourhoods reduced to rubble, there were few places left to mark the new year — and fewer loved ones to celebrate with.
“It was a black year full of tragedies,” said Abed Akkawi, who fled the city with his wife and three children.
The 37-year-old, now living in a UN shelter in Rafah, southern Gaza, said his house had been obliterated and his brother killed in the violence.
“God willing this war will end, the new year will be a better one, and we will be able to return to our homes and rebuild them, or even live in a tent on the rubble,” he told AFP.
There was also hope in Ukraine, where Russia’s invasion grinds towards its second anniversary.
“Victory! We are waiting for it and believe that Ukraine will win,” said Tetiana Shostka, 42, as air raid sirens blared in Kyiv.
Some in Vladimir Putin’s Russia are also weary of the conflict.
“In the new year I would like the war to end, a new president, and a return to normal life,” said 55-year-old theatre decorator and Moscow resident Zoya Karpova.
But Putin himself remained defiant in his New Year’s Eve address, vowing that Russia “will never back down” and praising front-line troops.
Putin is already Russia’s longest-tenured leader since Joseph Stalin and will again be on the ballot for a March election, though few expect it to be fully free or fair.
In Rome, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of conflicts around the globe, citing Ukrainians, Palestinians and Israelis, the people of Sudan and the “martyred Rohingya” of Myanmar.
“At the end of a year, have the courage to ask how many lives have been torn apart in armed conflicts, how many deaths?” the 87-year-old pontiff said after his Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square.
“And how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty? Those who have an interest in these conflicts, listen to the voice of conscience.”
TO THE POLLS
Several pivotal elections are scheduled in 2024.
The political fate of more than four billion people will be decided in contests that will shape Britain, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Venezuela and a host of other nations.
But one election promises global consequences.
In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden, 81, and Republican Donald Trump, 77, appear set for a November rerun of their divisive 2020 presidential race contest.
There are at least as many concerns about a Trump return.
He faces prosecution on several counts and 2024 could determine whether the bombastic self-proclaimed billionaire goes to the Oval Office or jail. Reuters
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