World Welcomes 2008

Fireworks erupt at the stroke of midnight during the New Years eve celebration at Times Square in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2008. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

More than a million revelers in Times Square cheered as the giant crystal ball made its 100th drop on Monday night and a ton of confetti rained down on the urban canyon, ushering in the new year.

University of North Carolina junior Reid Medlin, 21, attended the celebration with his friends Rachel Rand, 20, and Jeremy Crouthamel, 20. They were in the city for the first time and planned to stay up all night because they had no hotel.

"I think the best part is being here with friends," Medlin said as confetti floated down on him and people kissed around him. "This was beautiful. It makes you appreciate everything."

Rand said it didn't even matter that they didn't have a place to sleep.

"I'm too happy to go to bed," she exclaimed.

A century ago the Times Square tradition began with a 700-pound ball of wood and iron, lit with 100 25-watt incandescent bulbs. This year's event featured an energy-efficient sphere clad in Waterford crystals, with 9,576 light-emitting diodes that generated a kaleidoscope of colors.

Organizers said well over a million people attended the festivities.

They were treated to an entertainment lineup that included Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest handling the countdown to 2008 and musical performances by Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus and other acts. Even New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez showed up, shaking hands and posing for photos as he waited for midnight.

The Times Square Alliance, the business group running the event, handed out thousands of balloons and mittens to the crowd, which waited for hours in chilly winter weather for the main event. The confetti included pieces of paper with the new year's wishes and resolutions of people who submitted them in advance.

A million revelers also cheered fireworks in Sydney, Australia. Beijing started the year with singing and dancing displays hosted by Summer Olympics organizers, and even in Baghdad, rare celebrations resounded.

Across the globe, people gathered for parties, shot off fireworks and held out hopes for a peaceful and prosperous 2008.

But reminders of violence were apparent as well, as security was tightened in many nations. Fireworks were canceled in downtown Brussels, Belgium, where police last week detained 14 people suspected of plotting to help an accused al Qaeda militant break out of jail. In Paris, where festivities centered on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue and the Eiffel Tower, about 4,500 police and 140 rescue officials patrolled the streets.

In Thailand, an army spokesman said he believed that five bombs set off by suspected Muslim insurgents in a Thai-Malaysian border tourist town likely targeted New Year's revelers.

The bombs, which wounded 27 people, exploded in the hotel and nightlife area of Sungai Kolok, including two inside a hotel dance club and one hidden in the basket of a motorcycle outside a hotel, spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote said.

Baghdad witnessed something Iraq had not seen since before the invasion of 2003 - people publicly partying to welcome in a new year.

The ballrooms of two landmark hotels - the Palestine and the Sheraton - were full of people for New Year's Eve celebrations. After years of car bombings, mortar fire and suicide attacks, Iraq's capital was sufficiently calm to warrant the two high-end parties in the once-posh hotels.

Several European countries rang in the new year with new habits.

Starting at midnight, the smoke-filled cafe was to become a memory in France. Following up on a ban last year on smoking in many indoor locations, cigarettes will now be off-limits in dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, casinos and cafes.

People can still smoke in their homes, hotel rooms and sealed smoking chambers at establishments that decide to provide them.

Two European Union newcomers, Cyprus and Malta, started using the euro at the stroke of midnight. The Mediterranean islands, both former British colonies, scrap the Cyprus pound and Maltese lira to bring the number of countries using the shared currency to 15. Politicians ceremonially withdrew euros from automatic teller machines after midnight, with fireworks and outdoor celebrations in the two capitals, Nicosia and Valletta.

Along with the innovations, old European traditions were maintained.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin, gave the final New Year's Eve address of his eight-year presidency, boasting of economic improvements and claiming to have restored a sense of unity among Russians, who are likely to see him stay in power as prime minister after he steps down in a few months.

In Moscow, thousands gathered on Red Square to ring in the New Year, watching a concert on a stage beneath the colorful onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral, and fireworks above. A skating rink was set up on the cobblestone square, with tickets on New Year's Eve costing $82.

Russian border guards on Ratmanov Island, in the Bering Sea near the Interational Date Line, and others in Russia's easternmost reaches - nine time zones ahead of the capital - greeted 2008.

In London, hundreds of thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square and along the banks of the River Thames to watch a fireworks display and hear Big Ben - Parliament's iconic bell - welcome the New Year with 12 resounding bongs.

In a quirky tradition in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, Madrid residents dined on 12 grapes - one for each chime at midnight.

Berlin witnessed a massive fete: In a stretch leading from the city's famous Brandenburg Gate along Tiergarten park to the western part of town, officials set up three stages, 13 bands, a 40-yard tall Ferris wheel and over 100 beer stands and snack joints.

In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI took a somber note, lamenting what he called the "trivialization" of sexuality and lack of faith among young people during a vespers' service in St. Peter's Basilica.
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