Tight security helps greet new year


Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 10:13 p.m.
PARIS - France put 6,500 security forces on the streets of Paris on Tuesday, one of many countries around the world where merrymakers rang in the new year under tightened security.
Fears of terrorism were borne out in the southern Philippines, where a bomb ripped through a market shortly before midnight, killing at least six people and wounding 30.
In Italy, security was stepped up at the Vatican, at airports and at the U.S. and Israeli Embassies in Rome, although the Interior Ministry said it wanted to keep the details secret. Pope John Paul II ended the year with a traditional New Year's Eve homily.
"Let us thank God from the depth of our hearts for all the benefits he generously gave us during these past 12 months," the 82-year-old pontiff told the faithful in St. Peter's Basilica.
In addition to the massive security presence in Paris, the city's subway and suburban train network stayed open all night for the first time to discourage the use of private vehicles.
Parking was forbidden for cars, motorbikes and even bicycles around the famed Champs-Elysees where several hundred thousand people gathered to celebrate 2003. Vehicles were stopped and checked throughout the night. Unlike many European capitals, London planned no New Year's Eve spectacles, forcing those wishing to mark the holiday to do it in private. Even Trafalgar Square, site of traditional merriment, was closed this year for construction. Scotland Yard put 2,000 officers on London's streets.
Despite subzero temperatures across much of Russia, vast crowds thronged Moscow's Red Square. Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a sober but soothing message to his troubled nation. Police presence was high after terrorist attacks on a Moscow theater in October and the Kremlin-backed administration in Chechnya at the end of the year.
"Russia, a country with a thousand-year history, is meeting its future properly," Putin said in a televised message broadcast as midnight arrived in each of the country's 10 time zones.
In Ivory Coast, the government rolled back a shoot-on-sight military curfew for one night to allow for New Year's celebrations. The curfew has been in place since Sept. 19, when a failed coup threw the West African nation into civil war.
American forces stationed in the Persian Gulf region found ways to celebrate despite the threat of war against Iraq.
Some 5,000 U.S. sailors celebrated aboard The USS Constellation, an 80,000-ton aircraft carrier that has been launching patrols over southern Iraq since it arrived in the Gulf on Dec. 17.
"Whether or not we are flying, or we are a steel beach picnic, we are ready," said Capt. John W. Miller, the carrier's commanding officer.
As Miller took part in serving steaks to the crew, bombs ranging from 500 pounds to 2,000 pounds were stacked neatly in the ship's belly, ready to be loaded on to attack aircraft. In Israel, revelers crowded Tel Aviv night clubs and hotels to mark the new year, despite threats of terror attacks.
Security guards checked people entering clubs on Allenby Street in downtown Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel said in a statement that its annual New Year's ballroom party was a sellout with 650 participants.
The party spirit was also high in Malaysia, where daredevil skydivers threw themselves off the world's tallest buildings near midnight in a group jump from the 1,483-foot Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Tens of thousands of people - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad among them - partied in the park at the foot of the towers.
"It is a very good gathering of people, as you can see, they are very happy," Mahathir told The Associated Press after watching a display of fireworks.
Still, there have been jitters across Asia since Oct. 12, when bombs tore through two nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali, killing 192 people, including 88 Australians. President Megawati Sukarnoputri struck a gong to ring in the new year close to the site of the bombings, after prayers for the victims and pledges to fight terrorism.
Overall, more than 200,000 security personnel were on duty across the world's most populous Islamic nation. In the capital, Jakarta, police were on full alert after several foreign embassies had warned of new attacks over the holiday period. North Korea issued a New Year's message today, in the midst of rising tensions over its nuclear weapons program, and urged its people to build an army-based "powerful nation."
The North's message was issued in the form of a joint editorial by the country's three major newspapers representing its communist party, military and youth militia force.
Security in mostly Muslim Pakistan was stepped up for New Year's - a celebration some religious leaders frown on as Western, decadent and contrary to Islamic traditions.
In Karachi, where several terrorist attacks targeted foreigners in 2002, police were enforcing a ban on hotel parties as thousands of young people gathered on beaches on the Arabian Sea.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, the holiday was marked mainly by private parties.
Millions of Japanese thronged shrines and temples. Toshinobu Hiroki, spokesman for Japan's National Police Agency, said there had been no specific warnings of terrorist activity.
Security is always tight in Beijing, China, and it wasn't clear whether measures had been ratcheted up further for the New Year, which is not widely celebrated. Public buildings are always closely guarded and, in the embassy district, roads are blocked and guards, some toting submachine guns, are posted every few yards.
In Australia, Sydney's downtown was closed to traffic as hundreds of thousands of people flocked to watch fireworks at midnight.
The display climaxed with the shape of a dove carrying an olive branch blazing on the Harbor Bridge.
"After ... all this talk about terrorism it is so good that Australians overcame adversity," Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor said afterward, an apparent reference to the victims of the Bali attack. "We went on and celebrated and had a great, great party."

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