Fireworks, war and quakes as world tumbles into 2024

Agence France-Presse
Fireworks, war and quakes as world tumbles into 2024
People stand next to large cracks in the pavement after evacuating into a street in the city of Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture on January 1, 2024, after a major 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Noto region in Ishikawa prefecture in the afternoon. Tsunami waves over a metre high hit central Japan on January 1 after a series of powerful earthquakes that damaged homes, closed highways and prompted authorities to urge people to run to higher ground.
AFP / Yusuke Fukuhara / Yomiuri Shimbun

PARIS, France — Fireworks lit up skies across the world as crowds gathered to welcome 2024, but airstrikes marred the year's earliest hours in Gaza, Israel and Ukraine, while a powerful earthquake triggered tsunami warnings in Japan.

Many around the world are hoping to shake off surging living costs, global tumult and extreme weather in the coming year, which heralds elections for half the planet's population of more than eight billion.

Yet with the new year barely started there were already ominous signs.

At the stroke of midnight several rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, where they were intercepted. Some Israeli revellers ran for cover. Others continued to party.

Israel pounded targets the length of the densely populated Gaza Strip, where the United Nations says 85 percent of people have fled their homes. At least 24 were killed in the latest barrage, according to officials in the besieged Palestinian territory.

On Monday, tens of thousands marched through the Turkish city of Istanbul to protest against the scale of death and destruction caused by Israel's response to the October 7 attack by Hamas.

The Palestinian militants killed around 1,140 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures, and took 250 people hostage.

Since then, Israel has reduced vast areas of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 21,978 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

In Ukraine, authorities said they foiled a "record" number of Russian drones -- 90 -- on New Year's Eve after a week of intense Russian bombardment and one of the biggest single attacks in the two-year war.

Russia meanwhile reported more Ukrainian drone strikes on its Belgorod region near the countries' common border.

In his New Year's message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces would feel the "wrath" of his country's weapons in 2024.

His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, did not mention Ukraine in his traditional address but vowed on New Year's Day to intensify attacks on military targets in Ukraine.

January 1 has been declared a day of mourning for the dead in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Tsunami warnings

In central Japan, a major earthquake early on the New Year's Day holiday damaged homes, set off a major fire, closed highways and prompted authorities to urge people to run to higher ground.

Tsunami waves over a metre (three feet) high crashed into the coast after the 7.6-magnitude quake, and others up to five metres high were possible within 300 kilometres (190 miles) of the epicentre, US and Japanese weather agencies said.

Hours earlier in Sydney, the self-proclaimed "New Year's capital of the world", more than a million partygoers had packed the harbour to cheer in the new year.

More than a million people swarmed the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris for an elaborate light show and concert, while later in New York City, thousands watched the annual dropping of a giant illuminated ball in Times Square.

In Italy, New Year fireworks killed one person and injured 274, police said, while fireworks also killed a 46-year-old man in Switzerland and injured two other people.

Three young men also died while handling fireworks in Germany, where more than 390 people were detained and a dozen police officers hurt during clashes in the capital Berlin.

In neighbouring Austria, a bar fire in Graz left one dead and 21 injured early Monday.

On Rio's Copacabana beach, an elaborate firework show was accompanied by a live orchestra.

"Today we have positive thoughts so that we have a wonderful 2024, in which we make our dreams come true and with health," Francielle Marinho, 39, told AFP, her feet in the sand.

'How many lives?'

In Rome, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of conflicts around the globe, including 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.

War weariness was evident among many of those impacted in conflict zones.

In Tel Aviv, Israel, 24-year-old Ran Stahl preferred to work at a wine bar on New Year's Eve, saying he didn't have the heart to celebrate.

"The minute I start dancing, the sadness and mourning come back," said Stahl, whose friend died at a trance music festival during Hamas's October 7 attack.

Some in Putin's Russia were also weary of the fighting in Ukraine that is nearing its second anniversary.

"I would like the war to end, a new president and a return to normal life," said 55-year-old theatre decorator Zoya Karpova.

To the polls

In Denmark, popular Queen Margrethe II, Europe's longest-serving monarch, chose her New Year's Eve address to announce her coming abdication in favour of her son.

Elsewhere on the political landscape, pivotal elections are scheduled this year in Russia, Britain, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Venezuela.

But it is the presidential race in the United States that promises global consequences.

Incumbent Democrat Joe Biden, 81, and Republican Donald Trump, 77, appear set for a November rerun of their 2020 slugfest.

Biden marked the new year by proclaiming optimism for the US economy.

But he has at times appeared to show his age and even supporters worry about the toll of another bruising four years in office.

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.

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