Revelers are flocking to post-COVID New Year’s Eve parties

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Revelers in major city centers across Europe and the Middle East marked the start of 2023 with a countdown and fireworks, as many cities around the world celebrated New Year’s Eve without restrictions for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. .

Children crowd a metro station in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to meet Saint Nicholas and enjoy a special performance before the new year. Meanwhile, some soldiers who said they usually celebrated the holiday with their families decided to stay in the trenches while they sought to defend their country.

Others in Ukraine returned to the capital, Kyiv, to spend New Year’s Eve with their loved ones. With Russian attacks continuing to target power supplies, leaving millions without power, no big celebrations are planned. A curfew was scheduled for midnight.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a “message of unity and trust” in a televised address on Saturday. Referring to the war in Ukraine several times, Macron also sent a message to “Ukrainian friends of France”, saying “We respect and admire you”.

“During the coming year, we will be by your side tirelessly. We will help you until victory and we will be together to build a just and lasting peace. Rely on France and count on Europe.”

Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, was welcoming the year 2023 with street celebrations and fireworks. At St. Antoine’s Catholic Church on Istanbul’s famous pedestrian street, dozens of Christians prayed for the New Year and celebrated the death of former Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican announced the death of Benedict on Saturday at the age of 95.

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The Pacific nation of Kiribati was the first to usher in the New Year, with the clock ticking into 2023 one hour ahead of its neighbors including New Zealand.

In Auckland, large crowds gather under the Sky Tower, as fireworks precede a 10-second countdown to midnight. Festivities in New Zealand’s largest city were well received after the COVID-19 virus forced them to cancel a year ago.

There was a panic in the port city of Turanga in the North Island, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) from Auckland, when a bouncing castle exploded about 100 meters (yards) away. Tauranga City Council reported that one person was taken to hospital and four people were being treated on site.

More than a million people thronged Sydney’s waterfront to celebrate the multimillion dollar event on the themes of diversity and inclusion. More than 7,000 fireworks were launched from the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and another 2,000 from the nearby Opera House.

Stephen Gilbey, producer of major events and festivals in the city, told The Sydney Morning Herald that it was “the gig Sydney deserves”.

“We have had a rather difficult couple of years; we are very pleased to be able this year to welcome people back to the foreshores of Sydney Harbor to celebrate the world famous New Year’s Eve in Sydney.”

In Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, a family-friendly fireworks display has been shown along the Yarra River as dusk falls, ahead of a second session at midnight.

Authorities in military-ruled Myanmar have announced the suspension of the usual four-hour curfew in the country’s three largest cities so that residents can celebrate New Year’s Eve. But opponents of the army’s rule urged people to avoid public gatherings for fear that security forces would carry out a bombing or other attack and hold them responsible.

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Fears about the Ukraine war and the economic shocks it has wrought around the world were felt in Tokyo, where Shigeki Kawamura has seen better times but says he needs a free hot meal this New Year.

“I hope that the war in Ukraine will end so that prices will stabilize,” he said. “Nothing good has happened to the people since we had Mr. Kishida,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

He was one of several hundred people thronged in the cold in line circling a Tokyo park to receive free New Year’s meals of sukiyaki, or sliced ​​beef cooked in a sweet sauce with rice.

“I hope the new year will bring work and self-reliance,” said Takaharu Ishiwata, who lives in a group home and has not found gainful work in years.

Kenji Seino, who heads the meal program for the homeless Tenohasi, which means “bridge of hands,” said the number of people coming for meals is increasing, as it becomes more difficult to find jobs after the coronavirus pandemic, and prices soar.

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Associated Press journalists Henry Ho in Beijing, Renata Prieto in Kyiv, Yuri Kajaima in Tokyo, Grant Peck in Bangkok, Zeynep Bilgensoy in Istanbul, and Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

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