2020: the world sounds in the new year amid forest fires, protests | News

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Millions of people began to sound in the new year, and in the new decade, with fireworks, dances and champagne, but Australia's celebrations were overshadowed by deadly forest fires, while protests dampened the festive atmosphere in Hong Kong and India.

The New Zealanders were among the first to receive 2020 on Wednesday, with fireworks lighting up the sky over the capital, Auckland.

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Large crowds crowded the Sydney Harbor to see Australia's famous New Year's Eve fireworks, even when the smoke from the forest fires turned the night sky red in nearby cities.

Many cities along the east coast of the country canceled their fireworks when thousands of people crowded on the beaches to escape the fires.

The Hong Kong government also canceled its popular New Year's Eve fireworks in Victoria Harbor due to security concerns, as protesters organized more demonstrations against what they see as an erosion of democracy in semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Thousands of people in India also planned to greet the new year with protests, angry at a citizenship law that, they say, will discriminate against Muslims and destroy the country's secular constitution.

Australia on fire

Sydney went ahead with its fireworks despite some calls to cancel the celebrations in solidarity with the areas affected by fires in New South Wales, of which the city is the capital.

"Tonight we expect one million people in the port and one billion people worldwide to see the celebrations of Sydney's New Year's Eve, which is the largest public event in Australia," the mayor told reporters. from the city of Sydney, Clover Moore.

While revelers enjoyed fireworks in Sydney, other parts of New South Wales were fighting forest fires (Saeed Khan / AFP)

Some tourists trapped in the coastal cities of Australia posted images of red skies like blood and filled with smoke on social networks, while a photo in front of the beach showed people lying shoulder to shoulder in the sand, some with gas masks.

The fires have spread across four states, with fronts extending hundreds of kilometers in some cases. They have killed at least 11 people since October and have left many cities and rural areas without electricity or mobile coverage.

In defending the decision not to cancel the fireworks in Sydney and reallocate funds to the regions affected by the fire, Moore said that planning had begun 15 months ago and that most of the budget had already been allocated. The event was also a boost for the NSW economy, he said.

Protests continue in India and Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, shaken by months of demonstrations, protesters were urged to wear masks at a rally called "Don't Forget 2019 – Persist in 2020,quot; on Tuesday night, according to social media posts.

"My wish for the new year is that this movement may end soon, but not because we lost the fight, but because we won the fight," said Kong, a 40-year-old employee who joined a small protest at lunchtime in The central financial district.

Authorities deployed 6,000 police while the executive director, Carrie Lam, called for calm and reconciliation in her video message for New Year's Eve.

The protests began in June in response to a now withdrawn bill that would have allowed the alleged criminals to be extradited to mainland China to be tried, but since then they have transformed into a broader movement in favor of democracy.

India NYE

India has convulsed with protests over a controversial citizenship bill (Amit Dave / Reuters)

India was also affected by weeks of protests over legislation presented by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to facilitate non-Muslim minorities in neighboring Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, to obtain Indian citizenship.

Protesters planned demonstrations on Tuesday in the New Capital Delhi, now in the grip of its second coldest winter in more than a century, the financial capital of Mumbai and other cities.

First NYE of the new era of Japan

The atmosphere was quieter in Japan, where people went to temples and shrines, offering incense and prayer to celebrate the passion of the year and the first New Year of the Reiwa era.

Under the old calendar of Japan, linked to the emperors' rules, Reiwa began in May, after Emperor Akihito resigned and his son, Naruhito, became emperor.

Although Reiwa is entering its second year with 2020, January 1 still marks the first New Year of the era, the most important holiday in Japan.

South Korea NYE

Writing a wish for the new year on a paper note is a tradition in South Korea (Ahn Young-joon / AP Photo)

"We have a new era, so I hope things get better, although 2019 was also a good year because nothing bad happened," said Masashi Ogami, who ran a sweet rice wine stand at the Zojoji Temple in Tokyo.

The first year of the new decade will see Tokyo host the 2020 Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, thousands filled the streets of downtown Seoul before a traditional bell ceremony near the capital's City Hall and hung paper notes with their wishes for the new year outside the Buddhist temples.

However, the annual toll of the "peace bell,quot; in Imjingak, near the North Korean border, was canceled due to quarantine measures following an outbreak of African swine fever.